Caffeine consumption and listening to rap music could increase a driver’s reaction times behind the wheel, a new study indicates.
The lab-based report found evidence of noisy children in the car heightening a motorist’s hazard perception levels.
Women are quicker at spotting dangers on the road than men and R&B music is likely to slow your response time, the study conducted by a behavioural science consultancy also suggests.
Rap music and coffee claimed to sharpen a driver’s reaction time: A new study has suggested listening to different genres of music and consuming caffeine cut stopping distances
The trial was carried out by UK-based CX Lab in partnership with Uswitch.
It used videos from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s Hazard Perception Test – which was first introduced to the driving theory test in October 2002 – to understand the impact of music, caffeine and children on motorists’ reaction times.
Some 16 different clips from the test were shown to a sample of more than 100 drivers on a screen – split equally with men and women – who were then instructed, like in the theory exam, to click when they identified a hazard.
The group reviewed had a mix of driving experience, with 35 per cent of the sample having held a UK driving licence for more than 25 years, and the majority getting behind the controls of their car at least four times per week.
The test was administered in silence and then with different genres of music, the sound of noisy children in the background and before and after drinking a cup of coffee.
Out of all the factors tested, caffeine had the biggest impact on results.
When participants had consumed a strong cup of coffee 20 minutes before taking the test, they responded quicker to hazards.
The measured results found that drivers with coffee in their system stopped on average 23.92 metres earlier when spotting a hazard travelling at 70mph, compared to people who had no caffeine in their system at all.
Drivers with coffee in their system stopped on average 23.92m earlier when spotting a hazard travelling at 70mph, 13.57m earlier from 40mph and 10.25m earlier from 30mph
Uswitch says there is a widespread assumption that caffeine makes us more alert on the roads, but it is more interesting to find that factors ‘we’d never imagined could affect our stopping distance’ were found to have a direct impact
Rap was found to be the music genre that best improved reaction times at the wheel, while R&B was found to slow a driver’s reactions than listening to no music at all
In a car travelling at 70mph, participants listening to rap music would – on average – stop 15.49 metres sooner than those listening to no music at all
Out of the six different genres of music participants listened to (classical, heavy metal, jazz, R&B, rap and techno), rap had the most positive impact on reaction times and stopping distance.
In a car travelling at 70mph, participants listening to rap music would – on average – stop 15.49 metres sooner than those listening to no music at all.
At the other end of the scale, people listening to R&B had the worst reaction times, stopping 4.24 metres later from 70mph, when compared to people listening to no music.
This is Money asked Tim Wade, co-founder of CX Lab, to explain why rap music might accelerate a driver’s response time behind the wheel.
‘Behavioural science uncovers lots of interesting unconscious factors that influence human decision-making from driving behaviour to business performance. These often defy immediate explanation and require further investigation to truly understand why,’ he said.
‘It may be because rap music was less popular – that focused participants on the hazard perception task by actively suppressing the background music.
‘This has been seen in other studies where music aids concentration on a primary task – for example, in revising for exams, and raises exciting questions for further study on the role of music and sound in influencing behaviour.’
The study also surprisingly found that playing sounds of noisy children to drivers in the experiment also accelerated reaction times, cutting stopping distances by 13.49 metres on average when travelling at 70mph.
However, critics will argue that the study fails to measure the distracting impact when children are physically in the car making such a level of noise.
The study also identified a trend for drivers to be more alert when children are making noise in the car
Women were found to be far quicker to react to hazards in the test, meaning they come to a standstill from 70mph 21.48m earlier than men on average
The investigation involved more than 100 drivers being shown 16 different clips from the DVSA’s Hazard Perception Test who were then instructed, like in the theory exam, to click when they identified a hazard, replicating when they would hit the brake pedal
Women react quicker to hazards, study found
On average, the experiment also found that women are faster at spotting hazards, responding 690 milliseconds faster than men.
In a car travelling at 30mph, this means women would stop 9.21 metres sooner than men would.
However, when travelling at 70mph, this stopping distance increases even further, with women stopping 21.48 metres earlier than men.
A car insurance expert at Uswitch said: ‘We all assume that caffeine makes us more alert on the roads, but it was really interesting to find that factors we’d never imagined could affect our stopping distance – for example listening to rap music – might well make us faster or slower to react when behind the wheel.
‘When driving, we can be faced with any number of distractions, from the music on the radio or noise from our passengers, to other cars and pedestrians.
‘Making sure you’re focused and doing all you can to minimise distractions is key if you want to stay safe on the roads.
‘If you find yourself distracted and end up causing an accident, you could pick up a “driving without due care and attention” or even a “dangerous driving” charge, as well as a potential fine and points on your licence.’
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