Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Stop singing. Turn off the radio, too.
You're out on the road, speeding down some highway or boulevard. Over the generic oldies radio station comes Elton John's Rocket Man, a song about the loneliness and isolation of a single man traveling out in space. Driving alone in your pod, you realize that you are just like that rocket man, zooming past people and places you'll never know and who'll never know you. "Rocket Man!" you belt out. "Duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh" (I never could understand that part).
As you sing along, your subjective mental workload increases, your detection of peripheral activities drops and even your speed falls. According to new research on singing and driving, you become a worse driver when you're singing in the car.
Researchers at Monash University in Australia recently published an article in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention that looks at how driving abilities differ between people who are driving and singing, driving while listening to music, or driving with no music. In driving simulations, 21 drivers were tested on their ability to detect and react to conditions on the road. Drivers who were either singing with music or just listening were found to have slower reaction times than those not listening to music.
The research suggests that singing along requires more mental activity – which draws away some of your attention from the road. Singing drivers were more likely to vary their speeds and to drive at an overall slower rate. Interestingly, the research also shows that singing drivers had significantly less movement within lanes than those not listening to music.
Though driving with no music made for the most attentive drivers, the researchers found very little difference in impairment between drivers singing to music and those just listening to music. So if you're going to be listening to music while you drive, you might as well sing along.
Image courtesy Flickr user Patrick Denker