Preventing Distracted Driving
Adjusting the Radio Can Be Distracting

Listening to Music Behind The Wheel: A Safe Way To Prevent Distracted Driving

Updated Dec. 16, 2020

Studies suggest that around 90 percent of motorists regularly listen to music or the radio while driving. Though listening to music behind the wheel is not necessarily dangerous and is definitely not illegal, you must be aware of the risks your car’s stereo system presents in order to make safe decisions. Drivers who constantly switch between radio stations, adjust the volume or play music loudly are more likely to become distracted and miss important details about the roadway environment.

Whether your car stereo increases or decreases your chances of being involved in an accident is up to you and the choices you make behind the wheel. In this module, we discuss how to listen to music while driving safely.

The benefits of music

There is a fair bit of data to suggest that listening to music while driving can reduce a person’s chances of being involved in a collision or crash. Music – at a reasonable volume – can break up the monotony of a journey and help to keep your mind focused on the driving task. It has also been shown to enhance the mood in many drivers, leaving them better able to cope with the stresses of driving.

Your car’s stereo has more benefits to offer than just music. By tuning in to a local radio station, you can keep yourself apprised of traffic conditions and changes in weather which may be useful in planning your journey.

The danger of adjusting your stereo

Listening to music while driving is not necessarily dangerous, though focusing your attention on the stereo certainly would be. While your vehicle is moving, avoid the temptation to switch radio stations, insert a CD or otherwise adjust the stereo in any way. Instead, get your music set up the way you like it before you set off on your journey. If you’re listening to the radio, accept that they may play some songs you would not normally choose to listen to and make a commitment not to become distracted by switching stations.

Car stereo controls are not designed to be operated by the driver while the vehicle is in motion. They are often small and poorly labeled. If you allow yourself to become involved in adjusting the stereo, there is a good chance it will take up more time and mental effort than you initially expected. Stay safe, don’t go there in the first place.

Keep the volume low

Whether listening to music is beneficial or detrimental to driving ability has been a topic of many studies. While the jury is still out on this matter, there is an industry-wide agreement that aggressively loud music will impede a person’s driving ability. If the music in your car is too loud, you may not be able to hear important events on the roadway around your vehicle. You may not notice another motorist sounding their horn, the sound of an approaching engine or the whistle of a train about to pass through a railroad crossing.

Always set the volume of your music at a level that still allows you to gather auditory information about the roadway environment while driving. It is wise to do this before beginning your journey, though, you may also need to adjust the radio while in transit if a particularly loud or distracting song comes on.

Do not drive wearing headphones

In many states, it is illegal to drive with headphones covering both ears. Unlike the speakers in your car, headphones are designed to muffle outside noises so that you can better hear the music you are listening to. Wearing headphones while driving will significantly impede your ability to absorb valuable auditory information about the environment around your vehicle. If you must wear headphones, always leave one ear uncovered.

Distraction avoidance tactics

The best way to avoid becoming distracted by your car stereo is to set up everything the way you want it before setting off. When you have made all other necessary adjustments to your seat, mirrors and other aspects of the vehicle, choose your favorite radio station, insert a good CD or select a playlist on your mp3 player. Better yet, assign the role of “car stereo manager” to a passenger you are traveling with!

If you are a very new driver, the safest choice will be not to listen to music at all while driving. You will be uncertain about your driving ability and reliant on full concentration for quite some time after passing your test. When you reach a stage whereby you can operate the pedals, steering wheel and other essential controls reflexively, you should be able to listen to music at a reasonable level without becoming distracted.

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