Study: Wearing headphones while driving slows down your reaction time

Keep them off, guys
by Drei Laurel | May 13, 2021
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It should go without saying that anyone who’s on the road—whether they be drivers or riders—should be paying attention to their surroundings. We aren’t just talking about your eyes here, either, as keeping an ear out for potential sounds that indicate something’s wrong is important, too.

That said, it should go without saying you shouldn’t be wearing headphones or earphones on the go. Common sense is not so common, though, which is why there are still drivers who continue playing tunes through these devices while behind the wheel.

A recent Ford-commissioned study on the impact of wearing headphones behind the wheel found that participants using a listening device were 4.2 seconds slower to identify and respond to hazards on the road when music was playing. To gather this data, researchers used ‘8D’ spatial audio tech to immerse participants in a virtual reality setting and measured the impact headphones had on reaction to audio cues.

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What’s more, of participants in the study who have been involved in a near-miss or an accident, 27% said they were wearing headphones at the time. Hopefully, this study was an eye-opener for some of them.

“Sound plays a vital role in our ability to understand our environment—we very often hear important events happening around us before we see them,” Dr. Maria Chait, professor of auditory cognitive neuroscience at University College London, said.

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“While headphones can be beneficial to us in many circumstances, on the road they can block out important sound cues, meaning we might not be able to perceive nearby vehicles or road users, potentially putting them—and us—in danger.”

Loud music is bad enough of a distraction as it is. Combined with headphones or earphones? You’ll be ill-prepared to react in time in case you’re placed in a situation that requires some split-second decision making. Keep your headphones off while driving, guys.

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