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Driving Under the Influence -- of Music

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If music has charms to sooth the savage beast, then it should have an affect on road rage. Or at a minimum on one's driving style. A recent experiment in England attempted to demonstrate this connection.

According to The Telegraph, a study to determine if listening to music affects driving was recently sponsored by Confused.com, a British insurance web site. The study included four men and four women who drove 500 miles each. The first 250 miles was driven in silence and the second while listening to music. Items such as speed, acceleration and braking were carefully tracked. Footage of the participants driving was reviewed and interpreted by London University psychologist Dr. Simon Moore. His conclusion: different types of music affect your driving style. Specifically, rock and hip hop are especially dangerous for drivers.

"Music that is noisy, upbeat and increases your heart rate is a deadly mix," noted Dr. Moore. "Fast beats can cause excitement and arousal that can lead people to concentrate more on the music than on the road." According to the study, the most dangerous driving song was "Hey Mama" by the Black Eyed Peas. Other "dangerous" songs included "Paradise City" by Guns N' Roses; "Hit the Road, Jack" by Ray Charles; "Get Rhythm" by Johnny Cash; and "Heartless" by Kanye West. (You can see the whole list here.)

One other finding is particularly pertinent. "[L]istening to music you don't like can cause stress and distraction and this also negatively affects driving," said Dr. Moore.

So should you be worried about the tunes you play in the car? Maybe. But this study doesn't answer the question. For example, the finding that listening to music you don't like negatively affects your driving. Well, duh! And if you're driving by yourself, why would you even listen to music you don't like? It's not as if someone -- a kid, a parent, a hitchhiker -- was forcing you to.

That's just the beginning when it comes to deficiencies in this study. It was performed with only eight drivers -- not exactly a large sample, and hardly the basis for statistical significance. More importantly, the study was conducted in England. With all due respect, those people already drive on the wrong side of the road. I'm not about to agree with their conceptions of safe versus dangerous driving.

Most importantly, the study didn't test for much more relevant musical driving situations. Let's say your passengers are singing "A Hundred Bottles of Beer On the Wall"? Is driving while listening to it dangerous? Is it more dangerous by the time there's only one bottle left on the wall? Is it more dangerous than actually drinking 100 bottles of beer? That's the kind of stuff I want to know. And what about when the driver sings in the car? Is it safer than singing in the shower? Does it depend on the song? Or who is with you in the shower?

By the way, the study also found that the safest songs to drive to include "Come Away With Me" by Norah Jones, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith and "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John. C'mon. They've got to be kidding.

Forget the study. I agree with actor Dudley Moore who observed, "The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it." And the safest driving song is the one played by the siren.