Death metal - when music kills

20:52, Jun 07 2012

People who test cars are picky, because that's their job. The things they're picky about chop and change, according to what's fashionable to get down on. For a long time it was centre rear lap belts; this is not an unreasonable whinge, given that abdominal injury from wearing a lap belt is a possibility in a severe crash. However, that belt almost never gets used because cars transport only one person 90 per cent of the time. In the end, most car companies capitulated and installed a fifth three-point belt.

Lately, motor noters have been whingeing about cars that don't have USB inputs for iPods. OMG, how awful for them, having to search for a cord with a stereo minijack plug. Reality check; most people own cars that don't even have an aux input.

Anyway, that's not quite the point here; the music itself is. Distractions while driving are a major cause of accidents; studies indicate that up to a half of all motor vehicle crashes have driver distraction as their root cause. There are myriad reasons, including rubbernecking, controlling the kids, cellphone use, even just conversing with your passengers. Now studies are suggesting that something as innocuous as listening to music while driving can be hazardous to your health. And not just because it increases the risk of a crash.

Certain types of music are associated with mood changes that can harm how you drive. A UK survey of 2000 drivers revealed that almost a half found that rap music changed their mood while driving. One in five drivers became aggressive while listening to songs by rappers like Eminem, Jay-Z, or Dizzee Rascal. The good news is at least they're not listening to music that was made in the 80s. The bad news is they might be more prone to road rage if, for example, they see someone texting or driving with a cellphone stuck to their ear. Which seems to be about one in five motorists in Auckland; we don't seem to be getting the message. Perhaps an $80 fine is considered too trivial.

Another study indicated that drivers who listen to fast music in their cars have more than twice as many accidents as those listening to slower tracks. The latter group, however, were more prone to falling asleep at the wheel. Kidding, but driving tired is another leading cause of road traffic accidents.

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The car is evidently the place where people most often listen to music nowadays, so this research does have worrying implications. Clearly, music can be a(nother) big distraction while driving.

And it seems playing music in the car can affect your health in other ways. The British RAC Foundation (like our AA) has found that a typical car stereo can produce sound pressure levels as high as 110dB, which can harm hearing permanently. Individuals exposed to noise levels of more than 85dB for eight hours a day are at increased risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss. In the workplace, they would be required to wear some form of hearing protection. Some sports cars can produce 85dB of road roar at 100kmh, and are therefore in the same boat.

Apparently, drivers who listen to fast-paced music loud are twice as likely to run red lights. They are also twice as likely to crash compared with drivers who either don't listen to music or opt for slower forms.

So, in-car entertainment can be hazardous to your health and that of other road users. Most people consider driving a trivial task, but to do it safely and responsibly requires concentration. Given that distractions are responsible for up to a half of all car crashes, we need to be aware of what these distractions are to minimise risk. Rock on, but don't rock too hard or loud.

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