If you’re like me, you get really involved with the music you listen to in the car. Snapping fingers, bopping up and down in the seat, singing along. It seemed harmless fun, but now a new report out of Ben Gurion University in Israel says that music — especially stuff you really love — can really be distracting, especially if you’re a new, teenage driver (and male).

The study evaluated 85 novice drivers, each accompanied by a driving instructor and blasting their favorite tunes. “While listening to the driver-preferred music, virtually all (98 percent) scored an average of three deficient driving behaviors on at least one of the trips,” said the study, to be published in the October issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Almost a third of the drivers required a verbal warning from the driving instructor, and 20 percent had to take emergency maneuvers “to prevent an imminent accident.” The bad behavior  included tailgaiting, speeding, dangerous lane changes, negligent passing and holding the wheel with one hand.

Behind the wheel

“Most drivers worldwide prefer to listen to music in the car, and those between 16 and 30 like to drive to pop, rock, dance, hip-hop and rap genres,” said researcher Warren Brodsky. “Young drivers also tend to play this energetic, fast-paced music at strong intensity levels — about 120 to 130 decibels. 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.”

Geez. It should be noted that female drivers were less subject to distraction with music blasting. And the drivers still made a lot of errors without any music. They are teenagers, after all. With a special soothing music devised by the researchers, bad driving decreased by 20 percent.  

It should be noted that this is not the first study to reach similar conclusions. In 2004, the BBC reported on a Canadian study that found that “people took up to 20 percent longer to perform physical and mental tasks to loud music. If motorists were delayed that long at the wheel they could suffer a fatal crash, warned the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) Foundation.” Edmund King of RAC said that “not only is loud music a nuisance to others, it could also be the cause of accidents.” RAC’s own research found that drivers are twice as likely to drive through a red light when listening to music.

Now I’m not saying I know for a fact that listening to loud music leads to accidents, and the study didn’t go there, but let’s just say that a young person of my acquaintance was in a fender bender, and when I got in the Buick to move it, the first thing I had to do was turn the radio down to a dull roar. Just sayin'.

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Warning: Teen drivers listening to music ahead
A new study finds that 'virtually all' young drivers are bopping to their favorite tunes — and they make at least 3 mistakes at the wheel.