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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 April, 2004, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Drivers warned against loud music
Headphones and minidisk
Music with an up-tempo beat may be the most dangerous for drivers
Listening to loud music while driving can seriously hamper reaction times and cause accidents, new research suggests.

A Canadian study found people took up to 20% longer to perform physical and mental tasks to loud music.

If motorists were delayed that long at the wheel they could suffer a fatal crash, warned the RAC Foundation.

Edmund King of the RAC Foundation said the study showed that "not only is loud music a nuisance to others, it could also be the cause of accidents".

Earlier research by the RAC Foundation, a British motoring organisation, found drivers were twice as likely to skip a red light while listening to music.

In the Canadian study volunteers carried out tasks while listening to levels of noise varying from 53 decibels (equivalent to an office environment) to 95 decibels (equivalent to an oil rig).

It doesn't matter if you listen to opera, classical or rave - it's the speed of the beat that counts
Conrad King, psychologist

Researchers found reactions to be significantly decreased at higher noise levels for both physical and mental work.

At 95 decibels reaction times to tasks that involve decision making plummeted by 20%.

Edmund King, the RAC Foundation's executive director, said: "The findings of the Canadian study are bad news for decibel-loving drivers, as they prove that not only is loud music a nuisance to others, it could also be the cause of accidents on the roads."

Gary Jules - "Mad World"
Lemar - "Another Day"
Sugababes - "Too lost in you"
Blue - "Breathe Easy"
Norah Jones - "Come away with me"
Wagner - "The ride of the Valkyries"
Prodigy - "Firestarter"
Basement Jaxx - "Red Alert"
Faithless - "Insomnia"
Verdi - "Dies Irae (requiem)"
SOURCE: RAC Foundation

Drivers are at even greater risk if they listen to music with a pounding beat rather than more relaxed tunes, according to experts.

Conrad King, consultant psychologist to the foundation, said: "It is important that drivers choose their music carefully when driving, as up-tempo music has been shown to cause drivers to have double the amount of accidents as those listening to slower music.

"In general, if music is above 60 beats per minute, listeners experience a faster heart rate and increased blood pressure.

"It doesn't matter if you listen to opera, classical or the latest rave music. It's the speed of the beat that counts."

'Walk instead'

Radio 1's Will Kinder said: "Here at the Chris Moyles show our listeners' safety and wellbeing are second only to ratings; more accidents means fewer listeners.

"We suggest that if drivers feel they are at risk from a lack of concentration due to loud, pounding music, they walk instead.

"Not only will this ensure their safety but also give them valuable exercise."

Your comments

When we are driving to a place we are not familier with and trying to find an address, we generally turn the music down or shut the radio off. It means we need to focus more than we did before. So listening to music is a diversion while driving. Also, how could one hear an emergency vehicle coming from behind with the loud music playing? Though being a big fan of hard metal, I hate people who play loud music in public. Especially in these parts of the country. It is such a nuisance.
Chandrasekhar, New Orleans, USA

Legislation should be passed which places volume limits on all vehicle hifis. Anything which reduces the risk of an accident when at the wheel whilst cutting down on noise pollution can only be a good thing.
Alex MacDonald, Edinburgh, Scotland

I disagree, all loud music is not bad. I listen to heavy metal music and I've been driving for 15 years and the music doesn't cause me to lose my concentration.
Simon Bond, Reston, USA

I listen to music in the excess of 135db every day driving, I wouldn't say that it impaired my rections. Yes it can be distracting but I wouldn't say it was dangerous. What else will they think up to take pleasure out of driving? Speed cameras now. DB testing mics at the side of the road next maybe?
Andi, Rotherham, England

What about the fact that listening to music can help drivers stay alert and prevent them falling asleep at the wheel? Obviously if people are that tired, they shouldn't be driving in the first place...
John, Rayleigh, England

So, it seems that having something loud and distracting going on while you're driving might actually cause you to be distracted? Full marks to Will Kinder for putting this into perspective. Listen to the radio if you like. Turn it up if you like. If it starts distracting you turn it off, or take a walk or a bus. Do we really need a scientific study to tell us to take responsibility for our own actions?
Gary, Southampton, UK

I am a lover of heavy metal, and whether it be at live gigs or listening to tapes or CDs, there's only one way to hear it - loudly! As the old saying goes - if your ears aren't bleeding it's not loud enough. However, I totally agree with this research and have found it to be true myself that it does affect my driving. Semantically speaking, I would hesitate to call 20% a plummet: 80% maybe, but not 20, but I digress. What I did find was that the heavy beat and exciting nature of the music made me drive faster. But don't worry - I'm somewhat older and wiser now and prefer a more varied diet in my music.
Steve Drake, Farnborough, England

I have ADD and other tests have shown that music is an auditory stimulator for people who have trouble concentrating (like myself). I have medication which I take which helps me focus but, for long trips especially, I play music to help keep my attention on the road rather than be distracted. I honestly feel that, so long as the music is not unbearably loud, it helps me be a better driver since it increases my awareness during driving.
David, West Lafayette, IN

I have no comment whether the research is right or not, but it's bad news for me because I'm one of those who enjoy loud music while driving. It makes me quite excited listening to the radio loudly, especially rock or dance music. My suggestion is that we should pay more attention on the traffic and traffic rules even if we listen to loud music.
Danny Wang, Taipei, Taiwan

I tend to listen to a Tangerine Dream concert from Jan 1976 when in the car, and find that I drive serenely, not quite the same with Black Sabbath however!
Steve Bowman, Ringmer, East Sussex

Sir Alec Issigonis, inventor of the original Mini, refused to have a radio in any of his own cars, because he believed that listening to anything other than the car and the sounds from its immediate environment was dangerous for the driver, other road users and pedestrians. It seems as though research on the use of mobile phones in cars, and now stereos too, is proving the great man right.
Simon, Hove, UK

The BBC's Sarah Campbell
"Research shows reaction times are 20 percent slower if the volume is turned right up"

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