It’s Official: Listening To The Radio Whilst In The Car Makes You A Worse Driver

Everyone knows that texting whilst you are driving is bad for your concentration. Well a recent study has concluded that so is listening to the radio!

This conclusion has been drawn using the conception of human perception referred to as “Perceptual Load Theory”. The theory states that people have a finite amount of attention, therefore they can only attribute so much energy at one time. Once the world becomes overly complex, the brain is overloaded and begins to switch off. The study found that something as basic as turning the radio on whilst driving was enough to overload your brain and begin to switch it off.

A further study was conducted during 2015 by University College Cork, led by Gillian Murphy. The study tested whether driving reports could distract drivers from the road. 36 participants were split into two groups and placed in a driving simulator- all they had to do was concentrate on driving. One group had to listen for when the voice on the radio changed gender, whilst the other had a more complex task- to listen for the mention of a specific road.

The concentration levels of the two groups were quantified by their ability to see a “large, unexpected visual stimulus.” Of those participants completing the simple task 71% observed the stimulus, in the group who were completing the more complex task only 23% observed the stimulus. Perhaps most worrying, the stimulus was not hard to miss, it was typically either a giant gorilla or elephant at the side of the road.

The study stated that “The results showed that perceptual load dramatically affected driver awareness for visual and auditory stimuli, even those that were driving-relevant and safety critical, for example pedestrians or the sound of a horn.”

Most concerning about the study’s findings is the negative impact that listening to drive-time and other relevant, informative sources can negatively impact on driving. The impact of such measures is that the loss of concentration can cause motorists to fail to become aware of other stimuli- potentially to the detriment not only of themselves, but of other road users and pedestrians.

Murphy concludes that, “Anything that draws our attention away from driving can be problematic. This doesn’t mean that radios should be banned from cars, but that as motorists, we should be aware of the limits of attention.”