Does singing along to your favorite songs make you a worse driver?

By Seriously Science | July 24, 2014 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Aka Hige

Image: Flickr/Aka Hige

You’re speeding down the highway, belting out the lyrics of your favorite song. Seems like a harmless way to while away the miles–but can singing along to your favorite tunes harm more than your passenger’s ears? To test whether singing makes people worse drivers, these scientists put people into a driving simulator and measured their performance while just driving, driving and listening to music, or while singing along. Turns out that singing did interfere with driver’s ability to avoid hazards… but no more than just listening to music. So when the driving gets tough, good drivers get silent.

A simulator study of the effects of singing on driving performance.

“This study aimed to investigate how singing while driving affects driver performance. Twenty-one participants completed three trials of a simulated drive concurrently while performing a peripheral detection task (PDT); each trial was conducted either without music, with participants listening to music, or with participants singing along to music. It was hypothesised that driving performance and PDT response times would be impaired, and that driver subjective workload ratings would be higher, when participants were singing to music compared to when there was no music or when participants were listening to music. As expected, singing while driving was rated as more mentally demanding, and resulted in slower and more variable speeds, than driving without music. Listening to music was associated with the slowest speeds overall, and fewer lane excursions than the no music condition. Interestingly, both music conditions were associated with slower speed-adjusted PDT response times and significantly less deviation within the lane than was driving without music. Collectively, results suggest that singing while driving alters driving performance and impairs hazard perception while at the same time increasing subjective mental workload. However, singing while driving does not appear to affect driving performance more than simply listening to music. Further, drivers’ efforts to compensate for the increased mental workload associated with singing and listening to music by slowing down appear to be insufficient, as evidenced by relative increases in PDT response times in these two conditions compared to baseline.”

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  • Ryan

    Anecdotally, I have found that I have to stop the music when I’m doing tricky navigating or difficult manoeuvring. Or especially both, as with emergency driving. The impairment seems to be less than from trying to hold a conversation.

    Music does seem to help with staying alert on open highways, though. I’d be interesting in seeing a study examining that as well.

  • Jennifer

    I think it must depend on the person and how musically inclined they are. I am very musically inclined and find singing along to music much easier than having a conversation in the car. I’m way more distracted by talking with humans in the car and have to stop talking when I get to intersections or things like that. Also, I tend to daydream if I don’t have music on. I definitely feel that music actually makes me a better driver because I am more awake and engaged and relaxed. I do keep the windows open a bit so I can hear any sirens over the music. I do sing along to the songs I like and notice no difference in my driving. I’ve never had an accident or even been pulled over or gotten a ticket, so I must be doing something right.


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