Is Car Radio a Distraction for Drivers?
Nowadays, much of the focus in the campaign against distracted driving is on texting while driving. But car radios are — and beginning around 80 years ago, were — taking the blame for many distracted driving accidents, as CarInsurance.com reports in an article called “The Distracted Driving Panic — Of 1930” in Tuesday’s The Street.
CarInsurance.com writes about a long-ago Massachusetts bureaucrat named George A. Parker who thought car radios should be banned: “He worried that the noise itself was a distraction, that changing stations meant removing a driver’s eyes from the road, that soft music could lull a motorist to sleep. It could even, he said, distract the driver in another car if the windows were open.”
Parker began addressing the problem of car radios after he became Massachusetts’ Registrar of Motor Vehicles in 1928. The first custom-fitted car radios were appearing in stores in 1930, CarInsurance.com reports, and goes on to say:
Parker lobbied hard for a ban on car radios, mostly with state senators and a skeptical public. Parker believed that once he had the Massachusetts locals in tow, the rest of the country would soon follow. Other states, he told the Christian Science Monitor in 1930, were ‘hanging on the fence,’ waiting for a state bold enough to make the first move.
The Radio Manufacturers Association (now the Telecommunications Industry Association) countered that $5 million in research and development showed that car radios were safe. But, as CarInsurance.com notes, according to The New York Times, a 1934 Auto Club of New York questionnaire found that 56% of those surveyed considered car radios to be a dangerous distraction. The article notes that some kind of radio has been a standard feature in almost every car built since.
In an essay called “Loud Car Stereos — A Dangerous Distraction” in AAA’s Going Places magazine, Judy Ellis writes that loud music from car stereos is a dangerous, unhealthy, and anti-social “hobby.” As she writes:
Loud music from car stereos has been identified as one of the many activities that distract drivers — especially young drivers — who are already chatting with their friends in the back seat, talking on a cell phone, and/or eating. One study from Nova Scotia found that when the decibels inside a car pass 90, the driver’s reaction time is impaired by 20 percent. And these are teenagers whose reaction time, ability to read the road, and powers of concentration aren’t the best to start with. Parents who indulge their teens by buying them this equipment have no idea that they are actually endangering their children’s lives– and those around them.
One of every eight American children shows signs of hearing impairment, Ellis says, often caused by iPods and related devices. And as children reach driving age, their hearing can be further damaged by the car audio speakers whose volume is turned up. The hearing impairment combines with the loud in-car sound system to make it difficult or impossible for the young drivers to hear sirens of approaching emergency vehicles, which can lead to traffic accidents, Ellis writes. She suggests that law enforcement, campaigns to educate parents, and a raising of premiums by insurance companies can all help to stop the surge of loud car stereos and related accidents from distracted driving. NoiseOFF.org provides information and resources.
Here is a video of a loud in-car speaker system:
Image by kaferico (Steven Diaz), used under its Creative Commons license.