Can Your Music Kill You?

White and black MP3 playersMost of us enjoy listening to music while driving. We can switch on the radio without thinking or change songs on our MP3 players. But is this safe?

A new study shows that listening to music while driving actually has little effect on driving performance. It doesn’t seem to curb response time and might even boost your focus in certain conditions.

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For younger but experienced drivers, loud music from a CD or radio is not a safety concern on par with talking on a cellphone behind the wheel. Speaking on a cellphone or listening to passengers talking is quite different than listening to music, as the former types are examples of a more engaging listening situation.

Listening to music, however, is not necessarily engaging all the time, and it seems like music or the radio might stay in the background, especially when the driving task needs full attention of the driver.

Distracted driving is a serious public health issue. Each day in the United States, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To study music’s influence on driving performance, one research study enlisted 47 university students between 19 and 25 years old to engage in a series of simulated road tests. Participants had more than two and a half years’ driving experience on average.

First, they were asked to create their own playlist, to make sure the music they listened to was familiar and well-liked.

Computerized driving simulations then surrounded the motorists with four large screens to create a 240-degree view of traffic. Conditions included driving with loud music, driving with moderate-volume music and driving with no music. No sound adjustments were allowed while the tests were under way.

Participants took the virtual wheel for about a half-hour twice in two weeks along a monotonous, non-threatening and predictable drive in two-way traffic.

Researchers monitored heart rate changes at five-minute intervals and assessed the drivers’ car-following behavior as they adjusted to the changing speed of vehicles ahead of them. Drivers also were asked to report levels of arousal (feeling energized, bored, fatigued or sleepy) while on the road.

The result: Neither the presence of music nor its volume had any ill effect on the drivers’ ability to properly follow the car ahead of them.

What’s more, those who drove with music responded faster to changes in the speed of the car ahead than those driving without music. And the louder the music, the faster the response.

Music also seemed to enhance drivers’ energy and arousal, helping to alleviate boredom without siphoning off critical driver focus, she found. Louder music prompted more energy than moderate-volume music, the research showed.

Nonetheless,  it is cautioned that music may have a different impact under more strenuous driving conditions and might even be distracting in a hectic environment. Also, older drivers might react differently than the young adults she tested, and trips longer than 30 minutes might elicit different responses.

Dr. Karen Sheehan, an attending physician in the department of pediatric emergency medicine at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, said the findings are inconclusive regarding music’s impact on driving safety.

“From an injury-prevention point of view, I’m not sure if the study answers the question as to whether it’s good or bad to listen to music when driving,” said Sheehan, who also is medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Chicago.

“There are some limitations to the study. It’s a driver simulation versus driving in the real world, so I’m not sure how well these findings would translate into a real-life situation,” she said. “And, overall, I’m just not sure that there is enough information here to recommend listening to music when you drive.”

Holiday Air Travel…Done Right!

A man looking at a toy planeIt’s about that time…to catch a plane to enjoy the holidays with family and friends.

READ: The Gorgeous Way To Travel

The Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year. During the 6-day Thanksgiving travel period, the number of long-distance trips (to and from a ­destination 50 miles or more away) increases by 54 percent, and during the Christmas/New Year’s Holiday period the number rises by 23 percent, compared to the average number for the remainder of the year.

What are the best ways to make sure your holiday travels are safe and problem-free?

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READ: The Top 7 Travel Illnesses

Here are some top holiday travel safety tips for you and your family:

Prepare & Plan. Be sure to plan ahead to anticipate or avoid any issues. Be aware of all TSA regulations that apply to you. Check the airline’s restrictions ahead of time on carry-on luggage and fees for checked bags. Arrive at the airport early to better deal with security and any unforeseen situations that may arise.

Connect. Upload your airline’s app before you leave home so that you can monitor your flight status.

READ: Travel Tips That Will Keep You Fit

Pack. If possible, try to avoid checking bags. You won’t have to wait for your luggage…or deal with lost luggage. If checking your bag is unavoidable, make sure you have all your medications, glasses (or spare contacts and solution), important documents and a change of clothes in a carry-on – just in case your luggage does get lost.

Eat. Hunger does NOT help ease travel stress. Eat a healthy meal before you board the plane and pack a few healthy snacks (such as fruit or peanut butter and wheat crackers) so you won’t have to rely on airline food.

Drink…with Caution. According to an NBC report, the quality of water on airplanes isn’t always as safe as you might think.

“Problems with airlines are not uncommon,” says a spokesperson at the Food and Drug Administration’s San Francisco office.

For example, fecal coliform bacteria has been discovered in the water systems used to fill tanks on different airlines. New EPA data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request, shows in 2012, 12 percent of commercial airplanes in the U.S. had at least one positive test for coliform. That’s still just about one out of every 10 planes.

“I would say that’s still a high percentage,” said Bill Honker, deputy director of the Water Quality Protection Division, EPA Region 6, in Dallas.

Your best beverage bet? Don’t ask for coffee, tea or water on a plane. Instead, stick to enjoying a glass of vitamin-rich juice on the plane. Also, be sure to carry an empty water bottle with you that you can fill up at a water fountain before boarding your flight – or buy a bottle of water after you clear security.

READ: 4 Ways The Holidays Hurt Your Health

Travel Off-Peak. For example, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year. Because of this, it can also cause greater amounts of stress. A better option is to fly on the actual holiday, or a few days before, to avoid long lines, hoards of travelers and potential headaches.

Travel Early/Travel Late. Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. There will also be fewer lines at security. Plus, if your flight is cancelled, you will have the option of taking a flight later in the day.

READ: The Top 12 Healthy Travel Tips

Relax. Bring earplugs and an eye mask to help make your flight a little more comfortable.  Also, realize that no matter what you do, travel is travel, and there may be a situation that you simply can’t avoid, no matter what you do. Just breathe and get through it as best you can, and realize that any travel tribulations you have can make for great stories over dinner when you finally make it to your destination.