Is It Dangerous to Drive and Listen to Sports Radio?

The UPI (and the Houston Chronicle) report that the U.K.’s Transport Research Laboratory has found that driving while listening to sports on the radio can be as dangerous as driving while drunk:

[R]eaction times were slowed by up to 20 percent when drivers were listening to sports, adding nearly 20 feet of additional stopping time for a car traveling 70 mph. … “To put this into context, this increase in distance traveled is 10 per cent further than the additional stopping distance when driving with a blood alcohol level at the U.K. legal limit,” the report read. … “At particularly tense times, such as penalty shootout, it may be safer to find a safe place to park and enjoy the action without risking an accident,” Dr. Nick Reed of the Transport Research Laboratory said.

Caveat lector: the study involved just nine men and nine women. No word on whether they were perhaps also texting, applying makeup, or fingering their worry beads.

(HT: Cyril Morong)


I think this talks more to the ridiculous standards for drunk driving (BAC <.05) that England employs, rather than the danger of listening to radio.


The benefit of sports talk radio is that it typically keeps the listener engaged. From my own empirical evidence, on long drives, sports talk radio has kept me more awake and alert than music does.

This may only be true on long drives where the driver starts to fade, but I think the delayed reaction times would be much worse on a driver half asleep than one who is wide awake but paying more attention to the content of the conversation than what is happening on the road.


Thanks for your concern and information on traffic safety. How is this freakonomics though?


"The benefit of sports talk radio is that it typically keeps the listener engaged."

I think that might be true if you're into the sport. I don't follow sports much, so when they say player names or say what plays they're running, it gets boring very quickly.

On the other hand, some of the talk shows on NPR are very interesting to me and can keep me alert for hours. When I was a teenager I could put on my favorite mix tape and get the same engaged effect you describe.

It makes sense that drivers should be alert and engaged enough to not fall asleep but not so engaged that they are distracted from driving.


Well maybe it speaks to how passionate Brits are about sports, or at least soccer. Impossible to concentrate on the match and the road at the same time.

A cynical part of me would say, if you're listening to soccer on the radio, aren't you more likely to fall asleep?

Also, what about other kinds of radio? Maybe any radio with talking is distracting enough. Reminds me of the studies that have found that talking on a phone with a hands-free device isn't safer than holding the cell phone.

Eric M. Jones

"Caveat lector: the study involved just nine men and nine women."


This rises just slightly above the standard of asking a couple of buddies and adding a secretary and my uncle's opinion. Do they actually pay these guys?

Cyril Morong


Good point. When I used to drive on I-57 in Illinois, I would listen to books on tape (usually Tom Clancy or Frederick Forsythe novels). There are long stretches of of I-57 that are very flat and straight and you see nothing but soy bean fields. Listening to a good story may have kept me alert and it sure made the time go by better.



This makes me wonder... are there any studies on listening to personal media players while cycling?

karim kanji

Why do they even publish this study given they only spoke with 18 people? Is there not a standard in these sorts of studies?

Karim Kanji


Yeah, I find listening to soccer play by play to be immensely exciting.

So exciting that I'd rather crash my car than listen to it.