Campaigns designed to draw attention to distracted driving often target cell phone use. While there is no doubt that texting while driving is dangerous, iDrive Safely draws attention to another lesser talked-about distraction: Music. According to studies, Georgia drivers who listen to decibel-popping music while driving may unwittingly impair their judgment. 

Studies reveal that as many as 90% of people listen to some form of tunes when behind the wheel, though researchers believe that is an underestimation. Separate research suggests listening to music during the commute actually has several benefits. For instance, listening to music while stuck in traffic can help to reduce anxiety, boredom and stress, thereby serving to prevent adverse health effects. In some cases, background music can help to improve concentration and focus, which can be very beneficial when behind the wheel. 

Despite the proven benefits of music, however, some music can be extremely distracting to drivers, especially when a driver turns it up to eardrum-blasting volumes. Findings from a Newfoundland’s Memorial University study found that a person’s reaction time decreases by as much as 20% when listening to loud music. 

What the researchers consider “loud,” however — 95 decibels — is actually not that loud at all. The middle volume on a typical music player, such as your phone, is 94 decibels. Most people listen to music in their vehicles at 100 dB, especially when on the freeway. 

While one might think inattention arises when listening to someone else’s music, findings published in a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute paper show that the opposite is true. Drivers’ performance dipped when rocking out to preferred music, while the rate at which they made traffic violations and errors increased. Alternately, drivers who listened to calming music tended to operate more safely. 

The institute attributes these findings to the short attention span of humans. To drive safely and with situational awareness, people need to remain focused on the task at hand.