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Is Listening to Music While Driving a Good Thing?

man driving with headphones
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Cars come equipped with radios, CD players, and Bluetooth audio… so that must mean it’s okay to listen to music while you drive, right? The answer is a little more complicated than that.

Is Wearing Headphones While Driving Legal?

Let’s get a relatively easy one out of the way. Wearing headphones while you drive might not be illegal in your state, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. You won’t be able to hear sirens or horns that indicate danger, making it more likely that you’ll get into a collision.

Wearing headphones while driving is illegal in the following states:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania all have laws on the books that allow for wearing headphones in specific circumstances. Many of them allow wearing just one earbud, for example. The rest of the country allows headphone use while driving.

Teen Drivers and Music: Recipe for Distraction

Even if teens aren’t fiddling with the radio or trying to queue up their favorite song on their phones, listening to music can still be distracting for young drivers. A small study in 2015 found that teens played their preferred music at high volume and committed more dangerous errors like speeding and aggression.

“Young-novice drivers remain more prone to distraction as they are less efficient in processing visual information needed to drive safely while engaging in other non-driving tasks – such as music listening,” the researchers concluded.

In other words, teens haven’t yet fully developed their driving skills, so blasting their favorite music isn’t a good choice.

Music Could Help You Stay Calm in Stressful Conditions

Unlike teens, adults show some benefit from listening to music. Multiple studies have shown that listening to your favorite tunes can help stave off boredom, stress, and even road rage.

There are a few caveats, however. Make sure that your music isn’t so loud that you aren’t able to hear sirens. It’s also a good idea to avoid extremely aggressive music, since that can make you drive more recklessly. Ideally, pop in a CD or put together a playlist that you can enjoy without needing to look at the controls.

What About Podcasts and Audiobooks?

According to BBC’s Science Focus magazine, podcasts and audiobooks are probably okay!

Listening to a podcast is usually a passive enough activity that it leaves ample mental resources for you to do other things at the same time, including driving. This contrasts with when you’re performing two tasks that are both mentally demanding – having a conversation while driving, for instance,” Christian Jarrett wrote.

Podcasts and audiobooks could be especially helpful on long road trips to help you stay more alert and awake.

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