How Listening to Music While Driving Impacts Your Driving Anxiety

musicDrinking and driving is out, but listening to music while driving can be in, especially if you select a set of tunes that help calm your nerves, enhance your mood and decrease your driving anxiety. We found three non-related studies that checked out music’s impact on your performance, mood and anxiety levels while driving, and here’s what they had to say.

What Study No. 1 Says

A study published in Ergonomics wanted to find out the kind of effects music had, if any, on driving performance. So it checked out what happens in both typical and demanding driving situations when the drivers listened to music versus when no music was played.

Researchers found that music:

  • Can influence mood and maintain mood which, in turn, can play a role in driving behavior
  • Has no bearing on driving performance in demanding situations (i.e. while driving in narrow lanes)
  • Can lower respiration rates, when compared to rides taken without music
  • Has no bearing on heart rate, despite its influence on respiration rates

If we throw one of those logical if-then clauses into the mix, we may be able to then ascertain that music:

  • Is able to positively impact mood while driving, potentially resulting in a more serene state and safer behavior
  • Is able to negatively impact mood while driving, potentially resulting in a more anxious or agitated state and more dangerous behavior

What Study No. 2 Says

Another study, this one conducted by environment and traffic psychologist Ayca Berfu Unal, suggested that music “makes very little difference” on driving performance, Science Daily reports. The only effects of music that were noted in Unal’s study were positive ones, with the studies covering:

Effects of music on experienced drivers, ages 25 to 35 – No effects

Contrary to other studies kicking around, Unal found no evidence that supports claims that drivers necessarily speed or ignore traffic laws if they’re listening to music in the car. Those with experience didn’t change their law-abiding habits or speeds in relation to the music, and some even exhibited enhanced driving capabilities with music playing in the vehicle.

Effects of music during tedious, monotonous driving – Positive effects

Driving down a mundane road, a hypnotizing and ever-stretching highway or, as test participants were subjected to, a quiet road behind another vehicle can be enough to put some folks to sleep. Chances of slumber, however, were decreased and attention to the road increased when drivers listened to music during the tedious drive. Science Daily quotes Unal:

“It’s fairly logical: people need a certain degree of ‘arousal’ (external stimulation to the brain) to stop themselves getting bored,” Unal says. “In monotonous traffic situations, music is a good distraction that helps you keep your mind on the road.”

Effects of music in high-concentration areas – No effect or positive effect

Driving through busy city streets requires more concentration than, say, meandering down quiet roads behind another vehicle. While many drivers typically reach to lower or shut off the music in high-concentration areas, Unal found leaving it on didn’t not appear to impede concentration. Drivers simply tuned out the music as they focused on the road, often unable to recall what music had been playing. In other instances, music was found to enhance concentration on busy streets as well as it did down those monotonous roads.

Effects of different types of music – No effect

Unal let participants choose the type of music they wanted to hear while driving and found there was no difference in the effects based on the type of music they chose. Although the effects of talk radio vs. music was not explored, Unal noted that listening to music was a background activity that didn’t necessarily compete for attention with driving, whereas paying acute attention to talk radio news or chatting on a cell phone certainly could.

What Study No. 3 Says

A third study agreed that music has an effect on driving, but it additionally uncovered the negative effects. The study came out of the London Metropolitan University and it suggests music:

  • Can make you driver faster and more dangerously based on its tempo

While the Ergomatics study noted music did not play a role in your overall heart rate, the third study says the speed of the music can indeed play a role on how quickly you drive your car. The quicker the tempo, the more likely you are to match the speed by putting your foot on the gas pedal, according to a CBS article on the study. CBS additionally reported the study found:

The closer the beat of the song mimics a heartbeat, the safer the song is.”

The British website took the study’s findings a step further by creating a safest song and a most dangerous song playlist. The safer songs are more prone to creating and maintaining a relaxed mood while driving while the dangerous ones are more likely to heighten your driving fears by exacerbating tension and driving anxiety.

Top 10 Most Dangerous Driving Songs

  1. “Hey Mama” by The Black Eyed Peas
  2. “Dead on Arrival” by Fall Out Boy
  3. “Paper Planes” by M.I.A
  4. “Walkie Talkie Man” by Steriogram
  5. “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses
  6. “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback
  7. “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles
  8. “Get Rhythm” by Johnny Cash
  9. “Heartless” by Kanye West
  10. “Young, Wild and Free” by Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa (ft. Bruno Mars)

Top 10 Safest Driving Songs

  1. “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones
  2. “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy (ft. Bruno Mars)
  3. “I’m Yours” by Jason Miran
  4. “The Scientist” by Coldplay
  5. “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John
  6. “Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake
  7. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith
  8. “Karma Police” by Radiohead
  9. “Never Had A Dream Come True” by S Club 7
  10. “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver

The lists comes from, since the link to the site appeared to be down 

The Bottom Line

Of course, each person may or may not be influenced by factors that have no bearing on anyone else. People who are extremely sensitive to loud noises, for instance, may not do well with any type of music blaring out of the car speakers. And folks who happen to abhor any of the songs on the safest list may actually perform worse while driving if they are subjected to a tune that makes bile rise in their throats.

Experimenting while out of the car can help, letting you listen to a variety of songs or music types that help you feel calm, serene and at ease, thereby creating a state that can be ideal for driving with as little anxiety and fears as possible.

One last caveat, however, is not to pick a music selection that is too serene, especially if you’re already tired or lacking sleep. You want to be calm, but you don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel, as that can create an even bigger hazard than any music ever could.


Study info:

  • The influence of music on mood and performance while driving. Ergonomics. 2012;55(1):12-22.
  • University of Groningen (2013, June 6). Listening to music while driving has very little effect on driving performance, study suggests.

Photo Credit: Hani Amir via Compfight cc