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Could singing behind the wheel increase car accident risk?

In the last few years, traffic safety officials both in California and at the federal level have been focused on distracted driving, working to educate drivers on the dangers of talking, texting and emailing on mobile devices while driving. In doing so, however, it seems that many people are no longer focused on some of the more traditional forms of distraction behind the wheel, such as eating and drinking, changing the radio and putting on makeup.

Now, a new study appears to indicate that it may be time to direct more attention toward some of these other forms of behind-the-wheel distraction. In the study, researchers found that drivers who listen or sing along to their favorite tunes are more likely to get into car accidents than drivers who do not play music in the car.

In the study, 21 drivers between the ages of 18 and 55 participated in trials in a driving simulator, with researchers testing how quickly they reacted to potentially-dangerous situations. They found that the drivers that had music playing in their simulators were more likely to get into crashes than drivers who drove in silence. Specifically, researchers believe that the music caused the drivers to be more 'mentally demanded,' resulting in slower reaction times, more variable speeds and, ultimately, a greater crash risk.

The researchers concluded that listening to music behind the wheel created significant risks of which most drivers are unaware or unconcerned. However, they say, those risks should be taken seriously. "Although secondary tasks vary in the degree to which they distract the driver," the researchers wrote, "any activity that competes for the attention of the driver has the potential to degrade driving performance and may have serious consequences for road safety."

Source: Daily Mail, "Eyes on the road! Ogling drivers cause nearly one million crashes every year," Anna Edwards, Aug. 14, 2012

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