Music for the road

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Colin Windell

Colin Windell on what to play in the car

For the tarmac traveller, moments of rural inspiration are encapsulated in lengthy segments of mind-numbing boredom on the highways as you drive from ‘A’ to ‘B’ – interspersed with brief adrenalin jolts when some idiot driver does something stupid.

There is not a lot to alleviate the tedium so it is up to the music to shorten the journey and stave off narcolepsy. What music will keep you awake and alert as you press on to the great escape at the end of the road?

In 1929, scientist Paul Galvin introduced the first car radio to Americans. Unlike many inventions that fade, the car radio is still a staple in most vehicles. Copious research has been done on the effect of music on driving and the jury is still out, since none of this research is definitive.

However, heavy metal and hard rock appear to pound the brain so that the driver may speed, miss stop streets or traffic lights and become a more aggressive lane changer. Following studies in the 1990s Professor Helen Beh said: “Silence may allow drivers to think about things other than driving” and “Music may focus the attention outward.”

Different tempos affect driving diversely; types and volumes act in a similar fashion. Brian Dalton subjected six males and six females to a simulated driving course while they listened to hard rock, classical music and industrial noise at moderate levels (Dalton, 2007) and concluded: “Background noise is detrimental to tasks involving cognition, concentration and attention.” Also music can be “as distracting as noise when it comes to human vigilant performance”.

Most people do not realise the noise equivalence of their music volume. Normal conversation is approximately 55 decibels while the threshold of pain is about 120 decibels. A jet plane is 150 decibels, a rocket engine is 180 decibels. Experts say you should not be exposed to noises louder than 85 decibels for extended periods, but many rock concerts ring in at 120 decibels and car radios are often nearly that loud.

What was that you said?

Colin Windell
Colin Windell is a petrolhead, rock music addict, and apprentice retiree who has managed all three into a love of travel that specifically excludes security and most airline staff He has worked on newspapers and magazines in South Africa and England and currently bides his time between excursions at an intimate watering hole on the KZN South Coast thinking about where he would like to be. Having missed it the first time around he would like to ‘drop out’ before he actually drops dead.