Driver's health: Do you drive to a beat?

By: Lawrence Schäffler


Music — it’s generally accepted — helps to relieve the monotony for lonely truck drivers. But does it affect performance? Is there a correlation between easy-listening and drowsiness? Heavy metal and road rage? Do truckies all listen to the same music? Lawrence Schäffler investigates.

Driver's health: Do you drive to a beat?
Does music affect performance?

An analysis of studies into music's impact on driver behaviour reveals a fascinating diversity, and much of it is contradictory. Depending on which research you read, music affects drivers in one (or all) of these ways:

  • it helps them concentrate on their driving;
  • soft, soothing tunes invite sleepiness;
  • hard rock keeps them awake but they become impatient, tailgating monsters;
  • cranking up the volume can reduce reaction times; or
  • music has no impact on driving style/behaviour whatsoever.

A study of more than 2000 drivers commissioned by a British insurance company (Quotemehappy.com) suggests a driver's choice of music significantly affects driving style. It explored the relationship between the type of music and behaviour behind the wheel.

Rock, heavy metal and hip-hop listeners are more likely to speed, tailgate and be involved in accidents. Classical and pop music fans experience the least stress at the wheel. More than two-thirds (67%) of rock fans and two-fifths (39%) of hip-hop listeners admitted to recently swearing or gesturing at other drivers, compared to 29% of pop and 16% of classical fans.

Drivers listening to rock and hip-hop also seem most likely to be involved in accidents. In the past three years, 31% of drivers playing rock music and 20% playing hip-hop in their cars say they have been involved in a minor road accident. This compares to 13% of drivers listening to pop.

Drivers listening to heavy metal are the quickest to anger: 62% revealed they'd recently lost their temper with other road users and 75% admit to regularly speeding. One in ten (11%) metal fans admitted they'd experienced a 'near miss' accident while driving because they were distracted by their stereo.

By contrast, classical music listeners are the least likely to speed. Only 19% said they tailgate. Overall, 42% of motorists playing classical music said they found driving relaxing.

The study quotes Victoria Williamson (a lecturer in music psychology) who explains that classical music makes fewer demands on our brain functions because it's less vocal. "Slower-paced music, clear structures and soft notes induce listeners into a relaxed mood with the potential to elicit more considerate driving.

"In contrast, the fast tempos of rock music, especially when played loudly, can not only divert attention from driving, but result in greater driver aggression, too."

Another piece of research (by Philips Research Laboratories in the Netherlands) seems to support the insurance study. It concluded that heavy metal caused a male driver to go "much faster," and hip-hop made one driver crank up the aggression. But it also found that a classical playlist caused two other drivers to be more erratic — compared to when there was no music.

A London University psychologist says the findings show that "noisy, upbeat music increases your heart rate. Fast beats can cause excitement and lead people to concentrate more on the music than on the road."

If you're going to listen to music while driving, he adds, there's a good chance you might end up matching your driving style to the beat. He suggests the ideal rhythm for driving music should match your heart rate (about 60 – 80 beats per minute). Do not listen to Michael Jackson's Thriller…

Too loud

The volume at which the music is played may also affect drivers' reaction times, according to research by Susan Strick at the University of Hawaii. Drivers were each tested in a car with the music at zero, 50, 65, and 95 decibels. As the volume increased, drivers took more time before applying the brakes.

During testing, they were shown a series of road signs and had to determine whether or not they should brake. On average there was a 0.12 second difference in reaction times with music at zero decibels and 95 decibels. If a driver's reaction time is 0.75 of a second and the vehicle is traveling at sixty miles per hour, it will travel 66 feet before the brakes are applied.

Music is innocent

And then, of course, there's the research which finds that listening to music — any type of music — doesn't make a damn bit of difference to your driving.

Experiments carried out at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands by environment and traffic psychologist Ayça Berfu Ünal, found that music not only makes very little difference to driving behaviour, but that any measureable effects were, in fact, positive. Music helps drivers to focus, particularly on long, monotonous roads.

"Our test subjects enjoyed listening to the music and did their utmost to be responsible drivers. They sometimes drove better while listening to music."

If you're confused — you're not alone.

But while you're scratching your head and wondering what to make of all this, here's another thought to chew over when you're next cruising along a deserted road at 3am: do truck drivers all like and listen to the same sort of music? Is there a 'truck' music genre?

Genre

Truck drivers are from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, and logically would have to have a diverse range of musical tastes, right?

Well, not according to American music writers, who suggest truck drivers are largely clones of one another and listen to the same sort of music — best described as country and western songs exploring "loneliness, regrets, lost loves and homesickness".

And to be fair, there is some evidence to support this view. An analysis of truck driver requests to US radio stations revealed some regular favourites. Music producer Universal Special Products capitalised on this material and in 2011 created an album — Trucker's Favourite Top 10 Radio Requests.

It includes Brenda Lee's All Alone Am I, Red Steagall's Truck Driving Man, Conway Twitty's Hello Darlin', Patsy Cline's Crazy, Roger Miller's King of the Road and Lynryd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama.

In 2011, US magazine Overdrive went one better and published its Top 10 Trucking Songs of All Time. These are:

  1. Six Days on the Road, by Dave Dudley (1963)
  2. East Bound and Down, by Jerry Reed (1977)
  3. Teddy Bear, by Red Sovine (1976)
  4. Convoy, by C.W. McCall (1975)
  5. Roll On (18-Wheeler), by Alabama (1984)
  6. Prisoner of the Highway, by Ronnie Milsap (1984)
  7. Drivin' My Life Away, by Eddie Rabbitt (1980)
  8. Movin' On, by Merle Haggard (1974)
  9. Phantom 309, by Red Sovine (1967)
  10. Give Me Forty Acres (To Turn This Rig Around), by the Willis Brothers (1964)

MP3

If you have a collection of songs that spin your wheels you should be aware that creating your ideal driving line-up is as simple as loading them on to an MP3 player and playing them wirelessly over the truck's stereo. With a little forethought, you can even arrange the songs in a sequence to suit specific parts of your regular routes — Hotel California along the Desert Road?

As solid state devices, MPS players are very robust and won't be damaged by excessive vibration. If you don't know how to load music on to an MP3 player or link it to your cab stereo, ask any teenager for help — but make sure they don't slip in a few of their favourite acid-rock anthems into the mix.

For the latest reviews, subscribe to our Deals On Wheels magazine here.

Keep up to date in the industry by signing up to Dealsonwheels' free newsletter or liking us on Facebook