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Thu, 29 Aug 2013 04:15:00 GMT | By Gordon Powers, MSN Money

How distracted driving boosts insurance costs

Distractions, including the type of music drivers listen to in their cars, may have an impact on driving behaviour.

Gordon Powers, MSN Money

Despite education campaigns and increased enforcement, the number of fatal collisions blamed on distractions has risen by 17 per cent in Canada over the most recent five-year period, according to data from Transport Canada's National Collision Database.

What’s worse, these figures don't cover all jurisdictions and may understate the problem significantly. The chief culprit? Mobile phones, including those with hands-free and speech-to-text systems.

According to Nationwide Mutual Insurance data, 81 per cent of cellphone owners admit they talk on their phones while driving, yet virtually all of them consider themselves safe drivers. But statistics suggest otherwise.  

Drivers using cellphones, for instance, are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers. In fact, studies suggest, the likelihood that they’ll be involved in an accident is equal to that of someone with a .08 per cent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated.

Car insurance companies, of course, are aware of those risks and price their policies accordingly. And things can get very expensive.

If you’re found guilty of using a cellphone while driving, the fine can be as high as $500, plus you’ll get a ticket tacked on to your driving record, which could have an impact on your future premiums.

Distractions can actually take on many forms, experts warn — like arguing with a passenger or cranking up the radio when your favourite song comes on.

The right tunes may make your ride more exciting, but do they influence your driving habits? Quite likely, suggests research from KANETIX, a popular insurance comparison site.

Your preferred music style can highlight what type of driver you are and your driving record. There is data on which listeners are most likely to get speeding tickets or be charged with more serious offences like careless driving and DUIs.

“We thought it would be interesting to examine the relationship of music and driving behaviours to see if listening preferences could have an impact on insurance premiums," says KANETIX vice-president Janine White.

When it comes to accidents, hip hop and R&B listeners top the list with 60 per cent claiming to have been in an at-fault accident, compared to only 53 per cent nationally.

On the other hand, alternative rock music listeners were the least likely to have been in an at-fault accident.

Drivers who listen to talk radio in the car were also guilty of pushing the pedal to the metal with 49 per cent claiming they’ve received one to three speeding tickets compared to 40 per cent overall.

Those who prefer to listen to country or classic rock were more likely to be pulled over for a DUI charge than those who listen to pop/top 40 or alternative rock.

“Music that is noisy, upbeat and increases your heart rate is a deadly mix,” London Metropolitan University psychologist Dr. Simon Moore told ABC News after reviewing footage of numerous drivers moving to the beat.

“Fast beats can cause excitement and arousal that can lead people to concentrate more on the music than on the road,” he maintains. “In addition, a fast tempo can cause people to subconsciously speed up to match the beat of the song.”

But not in every instance or at least to the same degree, other studies suggest.

For younger but experienced drivers, loud music isn’t a safety concern on par with talking on a cellphone behind the wheel, suggests Ayca Berfu Unal, an environmental and traffic psychologist at the University of Groningen.

To study music's influence on driving performance, Unal studied university students between 19 and 25 years of age who had more than two-and-a-half years' driving experience on average.

Various measures were used to determine the level of distraction, including braking time and following distance, and eye and head movements.

She found that those who drove with music actually responded faster to changes in the speed of the car ahead than those driving without music.

However, since this was only a simulation, Unal readily admits that music may have a different impact under more strenuous driving conditions and might even be distracting in a hectic environment.

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