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Turn down the beat: How music can impair driving

There have been plenty of warnings about what actions you should not do while driving. It's common to hear warnings not to drive while intoxicated, eating or texting on your phone. But there is something in nearly every car in the country has that can increase your chances of getting in a crash if used improperly: a radio.

Driving with the music playing in the background is an American pastime and some contest that it prevents drivers from falling asleep on the wheel. It's not that we should get rid of radios in cars, but knowing the risks of playing particular music in the car can go a long way to preventing dangerous driving and unnecessary accidents.

How music affects driving

People play music to feel more relaxed or not feel bored while driving hours between their home and work. Studies also show that playing music can increase the amount of mental capacity you are using while driving.

Out of context, that does not sound too bad, since using more of your brain could mean that you are more concentrated on driving.

However, in most cases it is the opposite. Since you are already concentrating on the road, blasting music could tempt you to sing along, recall good and bad memories, or bob your head back and forth in time to the beat. These activities all focus part of your attention elsewhere.

Such distractions make driving more difficult. Simple turns become giant swerves and turn lanes are cut too close.

Staying safe while grooving

If you do not want to give up listening to music while driving but still want to guarantee your own safety (and the safety of others), create your own cd or playlist to listen to in the car. Or, select a radio station that you know will not negatively interefere with your ability to drive.

Do not choose songs you have heavy emotional attachments to or tunes that are too fast, which will subconsciously encourage you to speed up. These tunes should feel like they are in the background rather than the forefront.

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