Chain of Thought

Singing Along to the Radio Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Transportation as a field of study seems to attract some really oddball research activity with it comes to driver behavior. I'm not talking about things like analyzing how many hours a truck driver can drive and still remain alert because that kind of data can be used to preserve the health of the drivers at minimum, and ideally to keep the highways safer. So studying the effects of sleep deprivation, either in the interests of justifying or challenging the Hours of Service rules, is a worthy endeavor.

But there's a study out right now that not only doesn't provide any meaningful data, but it in fact challenges the very quality of the driver's life. Well, it challenges the quality of my life, anyways, and I suspect, many of yours as well.

To come to the point, there's a study circulating now that suggests that singing along to music while driving your car makes you a worse driver. No, they didn't study the effects of talking on a cellphone or eating a salad or text messaging or shaving or putting on makeup or carrying on a conversation with five other people in the car or any other activities that prevent you from having both hands on the wheel. Nope, this study makes the spurious claim that the simple act of singing while driving, even if you've got your hands firmly grasping at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, is a bad thing.

I should point out that this study was conducted by researchers at Monash University in Australia. I'm not sure what kind of music they're listening to Down Under these days… is Men At Work still popular there? … but the first thing I noticed when looking at the methodology was that the study was based on 21 people sitting at a simulator. So already there are a few huge problems with this so-called study. The conclusions are based on a sampling of less than two dozen people, and these people weren't even driving a car!

And one can only wonder what else skewed the results. What if, for instance, these 21 people were all asked to sing along to “Waltzing Matilda,” while they were sitting at the simulator. Even Wikipedia says “Waltzing Matilda” doesn't have any official lyrics, so who wouldn't be distracted, trying to remember what that jolly swagman was doing down by the billabong? Just typing that last sentence distracted me.

My family knows very well that when we go on road trips, Dad is going to be playing all his music from the 1970s and singing along, which not only keeps me much more alert but it also helps build musical appreciation in my children (although, for some odd reason, they've never once asked to borrow any of my Eagles CDs… go figure). Considering that my family sleeps a good portion of the trip on our cross-country jaunts, having music to listen to – and yes, to sing along to – helps keep me more alert. If you've ever criss-crossed Ohio on any of the interstates, you'll know there's not a whole lot to look at.

The only good news to come out of this report is the conclusion that, although “singing while driving was rated as more mentally demanding, and resulted in slower and more variable speeds, than driving without music,” it doesn't seem to make any difference whether you're singing or just listening to music. So, in the words of another 1970s singer, Cat Stevens, “If you're gonna sing out, sing out.”

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