Fleet News

Could music be driving force for road safety?

From Chuck Berry to Bob Marley, Black Lace to Black Sabbath, Will Young to Mike Oldfield, music and radio have become company car drivers' constant companions since the 1950s.

So when you're driving along in your automobile, baby beside you (or perhaps just a box of samples or a tool kit), what makes the car stereo such an important accessory, and what does the music we listen to say about us as drivers?

Should employers worry about company drivers who head off to meetings listening to thrash metal bands, would it improve fleet safety levels if radios were tuned to nothing but Radio 3 and Classic FM, or is it all pretentious sociological claptrap with no proof that musical taste affects driving behaviour?

Midnight broadcasts from the Open University will say that throughout history, music has accompanied mobile societies, from armies marching to the beat of a drum through to popular music encapsulating the mood of an era.

And the language of journeys permeates music, from Woodie Guthrie to Bob Dylan, The Eagles, and even the Beatles' Drive My Car.

But behavioural analysts suggest different music affects our behaviour in different ways. Yoga classes avoid heavy bass disco tracks, while rugby team managers rarely motivate their players with music of waterfalls, wind chimes and whale calls.

This surely extends to driving behaviour - loud aggressive music can make drivers become tense while classical music can be relaxing and even help drivers concentrate. Alternatively, entertainment from the stereo may ease nerves and help drivers relax when stuck in a tailback.

Conrad King, resident psychologist at the RAC Foundation, said: 'While a person's natural driving style will be a key factor, once they get into the music it becomes one of the most powerful ways to influence our emotions and therefore our behaviour.

'So music with more than 60 beats per minute will raise a driver's heart rate and blood pressure as well as adrenalin levels. This will make it easier to trigger off faster and more aggressive behaviour at the wheel.'

On the other hand, King says, music with fewer than 30 beats per minute will have the opposite effect - like listening to a lullaby - although he cautions that not all classical music falls into the slow beat category.

Ideally, drivers should choose music to suit mood and driving style, and preferably avoid music that generates excitement and adrenalin, however much the empty winding road ahead is crying out for a great guitar solo.

'Most people accept that listening to fast music can make you drive fast and vice versa. If you are listening to fast, aggressive noisy music this can spill over into your driving,' says Simon Johnston, director of driver training company AcciDON'T. 'If you are aggressive, you need to be calmed. It you are tired, perhaps you need to put on something a bit more lively to stimulate you.'

But perhaps people who normally drive fast will do so no matter what is in their CD players. They may drive fast while listening to rock, but they may also drive at speed while listening to blues or reggae.

The attitude of the driver will be the deciding factor, and like it or not, drivers are in more control of their vehicles.

On the other hand, do the words of a radio DJ, talk-show host, or singer influence behaviour at the wheel?

Think about it. There you are stuck in the car alone with a DJ who irritates you. You constantly feel stressed and annoyed, disagreeing and arguing with him or her at every opportunity.

Do you do the sensible thing and turn off the radio or do you get more stressed and start arguing with the radio?

At the RAC Foundation, King said: 'Radio is a bit of a wild card because you have no control over what is about to be played.

'Different songs can trigger different memories in different people. So when a song comes on the radio it can make one person happy and make another sad.

'Talk radio can be a useful background but you may find yourself shouting at the radio. It's a bit like having a passenger in the car that you don't get on with. But be careful - driving in silence advocates driving round in a kind of puritanical state and can be unhealthy.'

At AcciDON'T, Johnston warns that drivers should avoid serious debate or radio plays that can almost transport drivers to an imaginary world.

And he advises that there are times when it makes sense for a driver to turn off the stereo, such as when reversing or executing slow-speed manoeuvres in towns and cities.

'Why dull one of your most useful senses - your hearing - when it can be so useful? When reversing in a car park turn off the radio and roll the window down. This way you can maximise the information you get from your surroundings,' said Johnston.

So why is music and driving so intrinsically linked?

For most of us, passing the driving test represents a coming of age, a symbolic rite of passage into adulthood and our own identity and independence. Driving a car symbolises freedom and an ability to tackle the rulebook head on - whether we drive too fast or too slow is up to us.

Music can provide a valuable framework for that experience. It can help us concentrate or wake us up. But it can also make us stressed and irate.

Best and worst driving music of 2001

Favourite record 2001 (artist and song)

1. Robbie Williams, Rock DJ
2. Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
3. Top Loader, Dancing in the Moonlight
4. Eric Clapton, Layla
5. Madonna, Music
6. Manic Street Preachers, If You Tolerate This
7. The Beatles, Back in the USSR
8. Hear'say, Pure & Simple
9. Artful Dodger, Moving Too Fast
10. U2, Beautiful Day

Least Favourite Record 2001

1. Bob the Builder, Can We Fix It?
2. Eminem, Slim Shady
3. Chris de Burgh, Lady in Red
4. Celine Dion, My Heart Will Go On
5. Bryan Adams, Everything I Do I Do It For You
6. Hear'say, Pure & Simple
7. Spice Girls, Holler
8. Robbie Williams / Kylie Minogue, Kids
9. Britney Spears, Stronger
10. Wet Wet Wet, Love is All Around

All-time Favourite In-Car Musical Act 2001

1. Queen
2. Robbie Williams
3. Rolling Stones
4. Abba
5. The Beatles
6. U2
7. Oasis
8. Craig David
9. Tom Jones
10. Madonna

  • Source: Autoglass
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