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Music that makes teens drive worse

What they want to listen to and what is safer to listen to are, not surprisingly, completely different things. Still, easy listening is better than no music at all.

By MSN Smart Spending editor Aug 30, 2013 2:35PM
This post comes from Mark Vallet at partner site

MSN Money PartnerWant to keep your teen driver safe behind the wheel? Find an easy listening radio station and rip off the knob.

Image: Man eating in car (© Image Source/Corbis/Corbis)A new study by Israeli researchers Warren Brodsky and Zack Slor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev finds that teens who listen to their favorite music while driving are significantly more distracted out on the road.

A driving instructor/researcher accompanied 85 novice male and female drivers on six different 40-minute trips. On two of the trips, drivers played music from their own playlists; two trips involved background music that was designed by the researchers to increase driver safety; and the final trips involved no music at all.

It should come as no surprise that teens love their music loud. Volumes in the car topped out around 100 decibels, and the group's favorite music was "highly energetic and fast-paced," according to Brodsky.

But almost every driver (98%) averaged three deficient driving behaviors when cranking his or her own tunes, the researchers said, and a whopping 32% of them required a verbal warning or command. Even worse, 20% required assisted braking or steering from the researcher to prevent an imminent accident.

Males committed more deficient driving behaviors than females regardless of which music was playing and were more often classified as aggressive drivers by the driving instructors.

The most frequent errors included speeding, tailgating, careless lane changes and passing, and one-handed driving.

Some music is better than no music

You might be considering pulling the stereo out of your car completely, but it turns out that some music is actually better than none. The silent outings resulted in 92% of the drivers making errors, while driving to the researchers' selections dropped errors by 20%.

Unfortunately, the safe-driving mix tape is probably not going to be your teen's new favorite. In fact, the average volume dropped to 82 decibels when it hit the speakers. The mix of easy listening, light jazz and soft rock, according to Brodsky, incorporates well-balanced musical elements with modest rhythmic qualities but does not include vocal performances or lyrics.

Drivers' moods were significantly more positive when listening to their own music, but these elevated mood levels can contribute to distraction. "Drivers are not aware that as they get 'drawn in' by a song they move from an extra-personal space involving driving tasks to a more personal space of active music listening," says Brodsky.

Teenagers need all the help they can get behind the wheel. A new driver is 12 times more likely to have an accident than someone with just a year of experience, according to the National Institutes of Health. (See "Young drivers: What you need to know.")

The devil's music!

The teens brought in a total of 1,035 pieces of music. They were not listening to folk.

Dance, techno and rock topped the list, followed closely by punk, pop, hip-hop and rap. While there is no way to determine the most distracting song in the world, here is a short list of the more popular songs on the teen's playlists:

  • "Champagne Showers" - LMFAO
  • "Bass Down Low" - Dev/The Cataracs
  • "Give Me Everything" - Pitbull
  • "I'm Into You" - Jennifer Lopez
  • "Tonight" - Enrique Iglesias/Pitbull
  • "Miami To Ibiza" - Swedish House Mafia
  • "Where Them Girls At" - David Guetta
  • '"Yeah 3x" - Chris Brown

And, if you're curious, here's a sample of the safe-driving music cooked up by the researchers and composer Micha Kizner.

More from

Sep 5, 2013 12:31PM
That list above would make anyone want to drive off a cliff.
Sep 5, 2013 12:54PM
I have five of those 8 albums/songs and I'm 63 years old.  I've listened to music since I was 16 and I've never had an accident.  It's ones driving habits that cause problems, not the music.  It's no different than having someone in the car with you that's talking. Teens need to buy their own cars and take on their own responsibility.  Parents quit giving everything to your teen, it only gets them into trouble.
Sep 5, 2013 12:21PM
Stop focusing on what you're jamming to, what you're chewing on, who just texted you, who is making out in the back seat and focus on getting wherever you're going safely!
Sep 5, 2013 1:07PM
Sep 5, 2013 12:58PM
Have them drive the oldest piece of crap  w/ no stereo,no power steering, brakes, etc and see how attentive they can be.
Sep 5, 2013 1:51PM
Heavy metal soothes my driving. That list is terrible !
Sep 5, 2013 1:44PM
how about we test older drivers too.  i can guarantee that plenty would've scored worse than teens but nobody wants to offend them by taking away their license. And I like how they said that rock was at the top of the list yet they didn't list one rock song in the most popular songs.
Sep 5, 2013 12:42PM
If highway to the danger zone comes on you better get out of the way !!! The F150 will take off like maverick !
Sep 5, 2013 1:29PM
Some teens should just be exempt from the road, period! 
Sep 5, 2013 2:17PM
I think that test music would put me to sleep on my commute...
Sep 5, 2013 3:36PM
What drives me nuts is how my GF will constantly station-switch/track-skip while driving, more often than not taking her eyes off the road, and very often while approaching a stop with cars ahead of her. She hasn't had an accident, which I can honestly not say for myself, but I still fear for my life when she drives.
Sep 5, 2013 2:37PM
I'm 64....and I could not listen to the "safe driving music"   yuck
Sep 5, 2013 4:24PM
Someday those teens will wonder why they can't hear.  If they knew how much hearing aids cost they might think twice about cranking-up the radio.  On many occasions I've pulled up next to a teen blasting the radio, specifically the bass, and the noise shook my car!  I just don't understand why the music has to be soooooooooooooooooooo loud! 
Sep 5, 2013 3:48PM
The one safety technology you can't build into a car or buy is simple human intelligence.  If you are driving, and you are not giving the road your full attention, you are too dumb to live.  I don't care what your mommy says.
Sep 5, 2013 1:49PM
Very good advice, but hardly news.  I've been practicing this for over 45 years.  Putting on a little easily listening or light classical music will make me slow down and drive much less aggressively, every time.  You could even carry on a conversation with your passenger!  (Unlike trying to have a conversation over Alice in Chains....just doesn't work!)
Sep 5, 2013 1:30PM
Ive only ever been pulled over when listening to fun music. Windows down, breeze in my hair and good music apparently give me a lead foot!
Sep 5, 2013 2:34PM
Walked out of the grocery store today and there was a traffic jam right outside the door. A 40 - 50 year old lady just parked in her SUV in traffic and was waiting for someone. People kept honking and driving around, finally I gave a her the Hey Dumbsh!t Look, and she drove off. When I pulled out to go home she had hit someone walking on the street. And she was the one who looked pissed lol
Sep 5, 2013 4:18PM
It's also been proven that listening to easy listening music while driving cuts down on road rage. Fire up the Barry Manilow CD, we're taking a road trip!!!!
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