The chances are high that you’ve turned the radio down before parallel parking, or before undertaking some other tricky manoeuvre. Maybe you do it all the time. There are plenty of memes and jokes floating around the internet on the subject, and some cars - like our Skoda long-term test car - even turn the volume down for you when the parking detect something in the near vicinity. But why?
The joke is that you’re turning down the radio to ‘see’ better, but in a way, that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s all about concentration. Human beings only have a finite amount of mental resources to dedicate to tasks, and if you’re listening to music, your brain will want to process it. Parking in a tricky spot is a demanding task for your brain and mentally blocking out music is difficult, so the best solution is to turn the volume down. For the same reason, you might find yourself turning the volume down when you’re lost.
The type of music also makes a difference. According to a study by Allianz Insurance a few years ago, jazz and blues music are the most likely genres to cause an accident through distraction, while classical is one of the least likely.
The whole brain capacity thing is also why using a mobile phone while driving is such an awful idea, and why hands-free kits aren’t much better: any phone conversation is more distracting than talking to a passenger, as he or she is able to see the road ahead and shut up when they know the driver needs to concentrate. Plus they might be able to point out a hazard the driver has missed, as their own minds aren’t preoccupied with the task of driving.
So, it’s well worth ditching the hands-free kit altogether in favour of concentrating fully on the task of driving. Oh, and the next time you turn your volume down before you park, don’t worry: you’re not being weird.