How Much of a Distraction is the Radio for Drivers? | Blog |

How much of a distraction is the radio for drivers?

confident car driver left hand drive

We all know distracted drivers are dangerous drivers, but how many of you think of the radio as a distraction?

It is not uncommon for drivers to turn down the radio when approaching a tricky junction – and a recent study has looked into why this could be with quite shocking results!

Gillian Murphy of University College Cork has tested the theory that everyone has a limited amount of attention, and once this limit is reached, nothing else can really be processed.

She applied this theory to driving and split 36 drivers into two groups:

  • Group 1: were told to listen to the radio during a drive, and hear out for a change in speaker's voice.
  • Group 2: were told to listen to the radio during a drive, and hear out for a news bulletin for a particular road.

During each group's drive was an unusual, large visual stimulus; either an elephant or a gorilla beside the road.

Of group one, 71% noticed the elephant/gorilla.

Rather worryingly, however, of group two, only 23% spotted the elephant/gorilla.

On top of this, group 2 were also worse at obeying road signs, speed limits, and reacting to hazards around them.

Gillian has said:

“Road safety campaigns are so focused on telling us to keep our eyes on the road, and this is certainly important, but this research tells us that it’s simply not enough. We should focus on keeping our brains on the road.

“Anything that draws our attention away from driving can be problematic, even if it’s auditory like listening to the radio or having a hands-free phone conversation.

"That doesn’t mean that we should ban radios in cars, but that we should all be aware of the limits of our attention.

“The fact that we found this using a simple, naturally occurring task like listening out for a traffic update on the radio suggests that the load on our hearing may be an important and overlooked contributor to driver distraction and inattention.”

The research is an eye-opener for many drivers; especially newly qualified drivers.

If you've recently passed your test please bear this research in mind and stay as attentive and focused on the road as possible.

The research was carried out by PhD student Gillian Murphy of University College Cork and Dr Ciara Greene of University College Dublin.  

Back to top