Driving and Music: When Concentration and Creativity Collide

I think we all agree that driving and music go together like mac and cheese or Hansel and Gretel. We just can’t imagine ourselves driving with our radios off. Not even in our dreams. That’s a nightmare.

But did you know you shouldn’t listen to any music you want?

Yes, you read that right. You can’t just pop in any CD and turn the volume all the way up while belting the incorrect words and expect yourself to be an alert driver.


In fact, study after study has revealed that you cannot listen to any music you want when driving. Yes, it helps keep you awake. But, it’s also downright distracting.Why?


Let me enumerate the studies and their results.

Driving and Music: Effects of Music on Drivers​

Increased driver errors. Brodsky and Slor asked 85 novice drivers to complete six trips using an instrumented car. It’s a regular car but with special cameras and machines attached to it to detect movements.

​They were asked to listen to two sets of music: the first one was their preferred music; the second one is recommended “safe” music.

The results?

As expected, all the drivers felt elated when they were listening to the music of their choice. They showed enjoyment and positive moods all throughout the driving sessions. They probably bobbed their heads along with the beat or shook their bonbons to the rhythm.

That’s good news then, right?

No. Actually, the story doesn’t end there.


While these drivers showed positive reactions to the music, they also showed more aggressiveness resulting in moderate to severe violations when driving.

All of them made approximately three driver deficiencies. Almost 32% needed verbal reprimand, and 20% needed steering or braking intervention to avoid an accident.

On the other hand, when they were asked to listen to recommended music, the drivers’ behavior and driving performance were better.

But note that these are the novice and young drivers. Age and experience may have played a significant role in this study.

Increased distractions. Another study by Brodsky looked into the effect of tempo on driving. The number and age of participants were not discussed, but the results provided significant information.

What are these results?

Using a PC-controlled simulated driving, the study found out that as the tempo of the music increased, so did the drivers’ speed.

This resulted in the violation of virtual traffic rules such as beating the red light, crossing the lane, and avoiding collisions.

Another study may have the explanation why this happened. According to the researchers, when drivers listen to music whether, in a complex or monotonous situation, they have increased mental activity.

Of course, there’s still the limitation.

Since the first study is a PC-controlled driving, I assume the drivers were not fully into the act of driving. It’s virtual, so it won’t really do them any harm.

Increased alertness. On the other hand, two studies reveal that listening to music may still be beneficial for driving on certain occasions. That is when carrying out a monotonous task.

In one of these studies, 47 drivers were asked to follow a car in two situations. One was with music; the other had complete silence.

The other study asked 69 drivers to drive in a driving simulator in both complex and monotonous situations.

The results?

Both of these studies concluded that listening to music regardless of the volume increased the drivers’ awareness or arousal while driving in a monotonous environment.

What do these Conclusions Indicate?​

​While the results of these studies are mixed, I guess we can draw a commonality here.

Music is indeed beneficial. But, a very big but, it should not be any music. There is a certain type of music that is safe for driving.

So if you would like to blast your radio on with your favorite Metallica song, think again.

What then are the songs safe for driving?​

Music for Driving

  1. Safe in Sound. According to news, this is the first scientifically created music merely for driving. It encourages better driving performance, especially in terms of braking and accelerating.​
  2. Come Away with Me. From Norah Jones’ Grammy Award winning album with the same title is the song scientists have OK’d for driving. It has a mellow tune and soothing lyrics.
  3. Billionaire. Although this song is a bit upbeat because of its pop-reggae beat, scientists say you can still listen to it while driving because it is uplifting both melodiously and lyrically.
  4. I’m Yours. This song from Jason Mraz, which stayed at on the Billboard Charts for 76 weeks, is another song you can safely listen to while driving.
  5. The Scientist. This critically acclaimed, piano-driven ballad from Coldplay is another safe song you can freely indulge in when on a road trip. The falsetto finale of this song, though, may raise the hair on the back of your neck. So consider yourself warned.
  6. Cry Me a River. Justin Timberlake’s almost 5-minute song has a go-signal from the experts. Perhaps this especially helpful if you’re suffering from a heartache. This song will make you both stronger and a better driver.
  7. I Don't Want to Miss a Thing. Aerosmith’s power ballad from the movie Armageddon is also safe to listen to. Just make sure you play this when you are not broken hearted. Otherwise, this will be a total tearjerker.
  8. Karma Police. Yes, this unconventional, “schizophrenic” song by the Radiohead is scientist approved. Maybe this will be therapeutic if you are not having a good relationship with your boss because this song is against bosses.
  9. Never Had a Dream Come True. That's right. S Club 7’s moving-on-but-still-loving-you song is also safe to listen to when driving. I just hope you don’t play this when driving with your new beau.
  10. Skinny Love. This indie music by Bon Iver is another scientifically approved safe music for driving. Although the song is about a failed relationship and how the singer is regretful of what has happened, its beat and tempo will give you a good vibe.


Perhaps driving and music will always be two inseparable entities no doubt. What we have to be wary of is the type of music we listen to when driving.

The songs listed above have 60-80 beats per minute, which is also the normal heartbeat. Anything beyond that will increase your heart rate, which may result in added assertiveness.

Also, these songs don't have aggressive lyrics that tell you “Throw your hands up in the air.” They merely let you think of normal thoughts we have every day. Like wanting to be a billionaire.​

Erin Taylor

Chief editor of YouthTune, a music adventurer. I love learning about music and audio devices, which I eventually share with others so that they too can go on exploring the melodious world of music.

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