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The ‘Mozart Effect’ and Teen Driving

Reading, via Tyler Cowen, about this controversial classical music behavioral nudge in the U.K. — act badly and you’ll get blasted with Brahms — put me in mind of a way to make things safer for teens (and everyone else) on the road. Since BPMs often seemed tied to RPMs when teens are at the wheel, how about using the car’s increasing electronic integration to hijack the stereo when aggressive driving is detected, pumping in some Sibelius or Chopin to attenuate the raging hormones? (one wonders more broadly about some kind of iTunes ‘genius’ system that measured surrounding traffic density, car speed, etc., and used it tailor musical selections — Satie for that frenetic rush hour scramble at the Holland Tunnel, Brian Eno for those epic tunnels in Norway (ok, wait that’s a bad idea), rousing anthems (e.g., the Pogues) for long, dark quiet roads.

Which reminds me of one last point: The curious power (both as narrative and sense-memory) a song can have in the context of a drive. I once almost drove off the road in rural Maine at night when I first heard the plaintive, haunting voice of Townes van Zandt singing Kathleen:

It’s plain to see, the sun won’t shine today
But I ain’t in the mood for sunshine anyway
Maybe I’ll go insane
I got to stop the pain
Or maybe I’ll go down to see Kathleen.

When I hear that song today I still recall a glowing white line, the dark outlines of tall trees lining the road, glittering moose eyes…

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 at 9:51 am and is filed under Cars, Risk, Roads, Traffic Culture, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “The ‘Mozart Effect’ and Teen Driving”

  1. Josh R Says:

    Not a fan of linking classical music to punishment, but I like the theory of automatically playing music to modify driving behavior. This needs more study posthaste!

  2. Bossi Says:

    Wow, A Clockwork Orange just came to mind…

    Personally, I find that mind gets “in the zone” when listening to classical; and I drive much more quickly as aggressively as a result. Then again, having played cello for for 13 years my mind might be a bit different… “Firebird Suite”, “New World Symphony”, and anything by Gershwin are sure to get my speedometer up.

  3. Bossi Says:

    Previous typo-riddled posts aside…

    I have an array of playlists (well.. CDs; I’m not yet advanced enough for playlists) for varying conditions. Gershwin/Sinatra or jazz for evening drives through cultural centers; electronica & techno for lonely nighttime driving; southern rock for daytime drives in the country; trip-hop and soft electronica for rain; and punk rock / celt rock when it’s an amazing day that requires a dose of energy.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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