There have been several debates; on telly, the radio, in the pub, even in the car itself - about what the best driving song on the planet is. I myself have a number of suggestions - though many would argue my music taste is dire. But what really makes a good driving song appeal to us, and can music really change the way we drive?
This, I felt, was a topic worthy of further investigation. But being a man, and biased because I were to be the driver in the experiment, I couldn't really evaluate my own findings - we all are worse behind the wheel than we like to admit, even if we are the world's greatest drivers. As such, finding the flaws in my own driving would have been a near impossible task. So I took a passenger with me.
The passenger I chose was my mother. As somebody who drives in utter silence, and whose nerves since two non-fault accidents have caused her to become a tad... jumpy when being driven, she would be the perfect person to assess the effect of different music upon my driving style. And following a bribe in the form of a picnic in the countryside on a sunny afternoon, I'd convinced her to take part in the experiment.
Not wishing to push things too far either towards lunacy or lethargy, I selected something with a high pace and upbeat rhythm and something smooth and refined as my 'test tracks' - Rio by Duran Duran and Avalon by Roxy Music. The New Wave beat of Duran Duran would be the perfect contrast to the debonair electric Lounge Lizard that is Mr Ferry, and conveniently I carry both a Duran Duran cassette and a Roxy Music cassette in the Peugeot at all times. To start, out came the album I'd been listening to before, and into the Blaupunkt cassette player went the "Rio" album.
"Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand!" One of my favourite New Wave tracks by one of my favourite New Wave groups, ideal music to drive to on a summer day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it served as a reminder of just how sweetly the 306 handles. The weather was perfect, the birds were chirruping, and it felt superb. The track ends, the Bryan Ferry compilation album I have is slotted into the stereo, and even I can feel things slowing down a little. There is something about Bryan Ferry's voice that instantly makes you feel like Mr Cool, for whom everything in life has turned out well, who can afford to take things easy - and just relax. Especially the later Roxy stuff, as per the title track of their last album in 1982; the Ferry take upon the New Romantic era was to revisit the days of people like Crosby and Sinatra, a soothing alternative to the more contemporary collections heard elsewhere.
Testing over, we found a charming little spot at the side of a quiet country road to have our little picnic and reflect upon the results of the experiment. The music described by one of Duran Duran's contemporaries as 'bumpy bumpy bump' music seemingly did little for my driving style - whilst it was conceded that I'm not the sort of arrogant prat you find behind the wheel of most Bee-Ems I was told that Le Bon was not Le Plus Bon vocalist for passenger satisfaction. Roxy Music, it seemed, had the same effect upon my helmsmanship as it did on my mind. Everything was so much smoother, more relaxed, and I was told I seemed pretty much to trained chauffeur standards when listening to soothing music.
So what does this teach those who actively try to improve their driving? Simple. For the majority of the time listen to smooth and soothing tracks - if Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music aren't for you, try someone like James Blunt. On the occasions where you're either doing sporting B-road blasts or in areas with higher speed limits, listen to the faster paced stuff - my personal preferences are things like Phil Collins and Duran Duran, but a lot of pop would fit into this category. And if you want to listen to rap music that everyone can feel as you drive by - you're clearly a mentalist. Go away.