If you listen to metal in the car, it could be making you a bad driver

There have been all kinds of studies about what happens to our driving behaviours when we listen to certain types of music in the car.

As far back as the 1930s, politicians warned about the perils of being distracted from the road by listening to the radio. Back in the 1950s, the company behind Esso gas stations warned that listening to rock’n’roll on the radio tended to lead drivers to speed. And now we’re being told that listening to metal could make us bad drivers.

Before we get into the weeds of this thing, let’s be clear on who commissioned this study. It comes from a car magazine called Auto Express and a road safety organization called IAM Roadsmart. Second, the methodology seems a little very suspect to me.

A driver–ONE guy–was exposed to four varieties of music: metal, pop, hip-hop, and classical. With this music blaring at FULL VOLUME, the driver was required to complete two laps of a race track. As he went through all the maneuvers (acceleration, braking, cornering, etc.) his reaction time was measured.

As a baseline, the driver was timed doing their laps with no music. Then came two laps with this song screaming on the stereo.

Then came a couple of laps with classical music (a recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations), pop (“Shake It Off” by Tay-Tay), and hip-hop (Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble”). All drivers’ times were calculated and averaged and found this:

During the metal laps, driver reaction time was reduced to the point where the laps took 14 seconds longer and required more throttle corrections.

The classical laps chilled things out to the point where when the driver was alerted to drive at 50 mph dropped the speed to 35 mph without noticing.

When hip-hop was played, the driver was just one second off his no-music lap, but he overshot the finish line rather dangerously.

The winner? Pop. Pop laps were comparatively smooth, resulting in a time just two seconds slower than the original control laps with no music.

See what I mean about suspect results?


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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