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Think carefully about your driving playlists

By Maxine Ashford | April 11, 2022


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We all know the range of an electric vehicle can be affected by the weather, driving style, payload and the amount of electrical systems in operation. But who knew your choice of music could also have such an impact?

In a recent study, it was shown that motorists listening to fast, upbeat music drive more aggressively than those listening to more gentle tunes and that means an EV’s range will drop quicker.

The tests were carried out by Kia using the fully electrified EV6 with its driving range of up to 328 miles. It is fitted with a pitch perfect 14-speaker Meridian Audio surround system so was the perfect choice for this experiment.

And overseeing the study was Dr Duncan Williams, a lecturer at the University of Salford’s School of Science, Engineering and Environment. Dr Williams also co-founded WaveTrace, a psychoacoustic consultancy specialising in biometric tracking of human responses to sound and music stimuli.

During the two-day test, five male and female drivers ranging in age from mid-20s to their 60s were asked to drive an 18-mile loop in the EV6. The route was the same for all participants and none had driven an electric vehicle before.

The loop featured a mixture of roads, including lots of stop, start town traffic, busy roundabouts, fast free flowing dual carriageways and twisty country lanes.

During the journey, a playlist of six songs were listened to in the same order by participants and the sound levels of the Meridian sound system were pre-set to be exactly the same for each driver.

None of the participants were briefed on what was being monitored during the exercise, but they were amazed when they saw the final results.

The tracklist was Tycho – ‘Awake’, Adele – ‘Hello’, The Weeknd – ‘Blinding Lights’, Anna Meredith – ‘Nautilus’, Kanye West - ‘Fade’ and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in D Minor.

After collating all the data, it was shown that classical music – such as the Beethoven track – creates a calm, focused and more balanced environment for the driver. And that resulted in better preserved battery power, which in turn means improved real-world driving distance. In fact, participants drove up to four times more efficiently while listening to Beethoven.

At the other end of the scale, up-tempo songs such as The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights provoked a completely different response in drivers. The mannerisms were more spirited making them twice as inefficient as they pushed the car harder.

Adele’s Hello has a slower pace but builds to crescendos throughout and that encouraged a more emotive driving style that would potentially reduce the EV range too, although not as much as the fast-paced tracks.

Data at the end of the trial showed that, on average, the 18-mile route used 22.48 miles of driving range. Beethoven’s music was played for 32.5 per cent of the time but only accounted for 7.7 per cent of the range. However, The Weeknd played for 10.4 per cent of the trip and accounted for 23.6 per cent of the range used.

In addition, each participant was fitted with an Empatica E4, a medical grade wearable device that records biometric measurements.

Dr Duncan Williams oversaw the analysis and data measurements from the Empatica E4, with the device focusing on infrared thermopile (shifts in skin temperature), electrodermal activity (fluctuating resistance of the skin that is altered by sweat), and blood volume pulse using a PPG optical sensor. Heartbeat and heat rate variability were also calculated.

“What we found from only two days of testing was that music really can have a dramatic influence on the real-world driving range of an electric vehicle,” said Dr Williams. 

“Different songs resulted in varying electrodermal activity and blood volume increase for each of the participants. This had a knock-on effect on driving style, and ultimately influenced the real-world driving range of the EV6.

“In short: if you want to go further, listen to the likes of Beethoven and other relaxing classical music; if you’re not worried about range dropping a little more quickly, by all means put on some more high tempo tracks,” he added.

At the end of the two days when the participants were shown the results, they were quite shocked by the impact music had on their driving styles.

A Kia spokesman said: “Participants were surprised at how much more efficient they could be when they listened to the classical music compared to other songs on the playlist. A couple of them suggested they would actively look to listen more often to classical music.”

And while an EV was chosen for this test as its silent running was the perfect control setting, the results would be very similar in a vehicle powered by a traditional combustion engine.

The Kia spokesman explained: “We focused on the EV6 for this study due to its high-end Meridian Audio sound system, its near-silent powertrain, and - due to the nature of its electric powertrain - the focus on maintaining or even improving range. But the results would almost certainly be reflected in other types of vehicle too. The study was fundamentally about peoples' physiological responses to music, rather than their driving style as such. But the state of one can impact the other. So it's likely the results would be similar in petrol or diesel cars.”

So, it seems we need to think a little more carefully about what music we listen to on the road, especially when driving range between charges can be so important on many EVs. That said; the EV6 has such an excellent range that losing a few miles for your favourite tunes is not the end of the world!

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