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Do Radios Cause Serious Distractions Behind The Wheel?

You love music. Unfortunately, in the car, the radio can be distracting, and that means that you could be putting yourself at risk of an accident if you choose to drive while using it.

Researchers at Carnegie Melon performed a study to determine if people are capable of multi-tasking while driving. In that study, subjects drove a simulated driving course and then over a similar course while on the phone. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the study was able to show that language comprehension and spatial awareness were reduced by 37% when the driver was distracted by their phone.

Using a radio is not the same as talking on a phone, but other studies have shown that it’s distracting, too. A simulation study performed by researchers at the University College Dublin, Ireland, specifically looked at whether the car radio interfered with attention. This study looked at the “perceptual load theory of attention,” which states that you only have a certain amount of attention to work with. It claims that once you reach the limit on that attention, you won’t be able to process additional information.

After dividing the subjects into low-attention load and high-attention load groups, they were given tasks. One group was supposed to note when the male speaker turned into a female speaker. The other was meant to identify when they’d heard a report about a specific highway.

In both cases, the real test was that researchers placed an elephant or gorilla along the roadway. Who would notice? It turned out that 71% of those listening to the radio in the low-attention group saw them. Only 23% in the high-attention group did.

What does this information mean for you? It means that the radio can be dangerous and distracting, depending on what you’re doing with it. If you must concentrate on it closely, you may be less likely to see changes in the environment around you.

The reality is that most drivers listen to the radio as a low-attention activity. It is more or less background noise that they don’t really pay much attention to. However, if you’re trying to focus on the radio, then this becomes a higher attention-load activity, which could cause a greater distraction and end up causing a collision. For this reason, it’s important to be cautious about distractions. Stay focused, and you’ll greatly reduce the risk of a collision.

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