Driver adjusting car stereo

Loud music slows drivers’
reaction time

Hip hop or opera – it might not matter. As decibels peak, performance shrinks. That’s the upshot of Canadian and British studies that show your risk of an accident climbs if you get lost in a sea of pounding beats when you’re behind the wheel.

BBC News reported that Canadian study volunteers carried out various tasks while exposed to noise ranging from 53 decibels (a typical office environment) to 95 decibels (somewhere between truck traffic and a jackhammer). At 95 decibels, reaction times during decision-making tasks dropped 20%. That’s consistent with an earlier study by the Royal Automotive Club Foundation that showed drivers who listened to music were twice as likely to run a red light.

The tempo of the music mattered, too. Pounding beats – particularly above 60 beats per minute – put drivers at greater risk than more relaxed music.

Even modest reductions in reaction time are critical at highway speeds. At 60 mph, a car will travel an additional 88 feet before the brake is applied if a driver experiences a reaction-time delay of just one second.