Are Audiobooks distracting while driving?

I realized recently that our library has a vast collection of audiobooks on CD and tape, so I checked out a couple of cd books to listen to while using paint shop on my computer. My kid brother commented on one of them, and wondered if he’d like to borrow a few to listen to while driving.

I’ve never tried listening to an audiobook while driving, and the idea makes me a little nervous. How distracting are they? More or less distracting than say, singing along to the radio? I never want to encourage someone to have/use something while driving that’s more distracting than the radio.

Audio books put you into the first stage of hypnonis, IRC.

I use to listen to them on my drive to work and I would pull into my parking spot and go, " Oooh, how did I get here so fast?"

I liked them much better for the drive home because it was bumper to bumper for miles and I wasn’t so exasperated.

For a very long time, it was the only way I could handle the long drives… now that my tape player in my car is broken, and I as yet don’t have a CD player there (the library’s new selections are now on CD), I’ve not been listening…

They are IMO the ONLY way to go for very long haul drives (3+ hours). They also btw, rent them at any Cracker Barrel, listen and drop off at the next one you see.


I hate the damn things. So yes, I find them very distracting. However I have plenty of friends who swear by them for long drives.

I would imagine it would just depend on how good you are at keeping your road concentration. I know people who are unsafe driving with even just the radio on.

  • Tamerlane

Almost certainly they take your mind off of driving. Your imagination kicks in as you’re listening, and you can’t drive and imagine at the same time.

I heard a story on Public Radio(I think) a year or so ago, when everyone was condemning cell phone use in cars. People were talking up the use of “hand’s free” units.

The upshot of the program/study was–it doesn’t make any difference whether you hold the cell phone in your hand, or have a head set on. You’re talking to someone on the phone, and your brain is concentrating on something other than/in addition to driving.

So, IMHO, any activity that causes you to ‘bluesky’ in your car is bad.

Wow, I couldn’t image taking a long road trip without them. 99% of what I’ll take with me is non-fiction. I don’t find them distracting at all. Since I’m not reaching for the radio dials when I’m listening to an audio book, that leaves me more time to concentrate. Should I reach a period of heavy traffic, I can pause it while I see what is going on.

I end up tuning them out, then I have to keep rewinding til I get to a point that I can recall. It ends up being very frustrating.

I’m with PunditLisa.

I tried one audio book just driving around town. I could not concentrate on the damned thing. ITraffic lights, stop signs, pedestrians, etc., all distracted me from the narration.

And I wouldn’t even consider listening to one at home. Reading is simply too pleasureful to leave to narrators.

I have a long commute and started listening to audiobooks from after I was given an iPod last Summer. I never listened to audiobooks before. Now I am an addict.

They really help the miles go by. I usually don’t find the story distracting at all, but sometimes the story will get a little too intense (especially graphic descriptions of violence) and I just have to shut it off for some lighter music. I can understand, however, how complex storylines could distract most listerners. Those titles are best for walking and jogging.

Compared to reading (which I still do lots of), the audio experience is just different. My retention of information is the same–in fact, it may be better. This is due to my tendency to skip a bit when reading; with an audiobook you are at the mercy of the reader and his or her timing. Most of the 2 dozen books I have listened to have excellent readers–the experience is similar to a play, more a radio drama. Some professional readers are so good that people purchase new audiobooks just to listen to their performance.

I suggest you give it a try for a few days and see. If you really get into it, I suggest a small iPod–one great feature is the ability to set a bookmark, so that you can cut to music and later return to your exact place in the book.

I drove a three day trip which would have seemed like three months without the audio books! Adoptakids totally enjoyed them as well.

Most of my driving was interstate and IMHO that contributed to their success. I found myself pausing the story when leaving the interstate for any reason so that I could focus on the new territory.

Count me as a lover of them for driving long distances. I’ll go to the library as well and choose books on tape that I wouldn’t otherwise read. I’ve been through a lot of writers like Mary Higgins Clark or other mystery bestsellers that way.

During my pregnancy, I was making a 60-minute drive twice a week to my doctor’s office. So I started listening to audiobooks in the car as a way of passing the time.

I found what some of the other posters to this thread have mentioned; when I was in a tricky traffic situation, or even just needed to change lanes or whatever, my focus shifted to the road and I’d stop listening to the audiobook, thus requiring me to rewind the tape once I realized I wasn’t listening anymore (and the traffic situation had passed). Kind of annoying, but I felt that it wasn’t a big enough deal for me to quit listening to the books.

If I’d found that listening to the audiobooks was drawing my focus away from driving so that I couldn’t safely handle road situations, I would have quit listening to them.

I regularly make an eight hour drive to/from Denver to Salt Lake City. Audio books are a godsend. Anyone who has made the trip from Cheyene to SLC will verify this.

For normal commuting, I recommend listening to the radio.

For me the driving is the distraction, not the tapes. What I mean by it is when there is no traffic, or turns (wide open road) I can pay attention to the tape, but when I have to pay attetion to the road, I automatically ignore the tape. When things open up again then I usually have to rewind it a bit.

I don’t see it as a problem while driving from a safty standpoint however.

I think samclem is right. Lots of research indicates that handsfree is no help with mobile phones while driving. I know that I don’t talk to my passenger and negotiate traffic hazards at the same time - sometimes I think I sound like I’m having a stoke…talking really slowly while waiting for a gap in the traffic. I wouldn’t listen to something intellectually engaging while driving, I stick to top 40 radio or CDs.

I listen to them all the time.

I’ve learned exactly where the eject button is. If traffic needs more attention, I turn it off. That way I’m not distracted later. (of course, if traffic needs attention RIGHT NOW, I don’t bother with the tape).

I also listen to things I know. So details aren’t really important. I finished LotR this winter, but having read it three times before (and having seem the movies) I didn’t need to give it my full attention. I have Pride and Prejudice and have listened to it so many times there are points I can “sing along.” I have never tried to listen to material I wasn’t familiar with, so I’m not sure how distracting it would be. (I’m not investing in books on tape unless I know I’m going to love it and get multiple uses out of it. So the “material I’m familiar with” concept has more to do with me being a tightwad and less to do with being afraid I’d loose concentration.").

Personally, I find Paintshop requires a hell of a lot more of my brain than driving (unless I’m driving on slick roads or something). I’d never be able to listen to books while working on the computer.

I love them. I started listening to them back when I had a short commute. Now my commute is 90 minutes (and up, on bad days), and I find them wonderful.

They don’t distract me any more than having a conversation – less so, in fact. And they certainly help keep me awake, so, far from being a danger, I find them a help to safe driving.

The unabridged books on tape are the best. I find thart listening is a very different experience from reading. I have the entire Odyssey on tape, and it’s far different from reading it. The unabridge Lord of the Rings tapes include all the songs, sung! I tended to skip over these when I read them. (Fortunately, the indices aren’t included).

Also, the teaching company has full length college courses on tape. I find them fascinating to listen to on long drives. You’re not missing much in the way of scenery in the Midwest. Obviously, I wouldn’t listen to them in bad weather or driving through Chicago.

I listen to a lot of books. I get them from audio-to-go which is sort of like netflix for audiobooks and I get withdrawl when I have to get in the car without one, even just for a short trip. I can’t say that it ever distracts me. I listen to a lot of stuff, I’m like PastAllReason, I listen to things I wouldn’t read. The thing is that most of the novels I read aren’t even recorded on tape or CD so I’m listening to things I don’t really care that much about. Not only do I listen to them in the car, I listen to them when I’m working at home and when I go for a walk. I tune them out a lot but I don’t really care. There have been a few times when I started an audiobook and realized I wanted to read it. If I want to really enjoy a book, I have to read it becaues I will never be able to give a CD the dedicated attention a good book deserves. Generally I listen to detective stories, murder mysteries, etc. Silly potboiler things I guess. Sometimes I can’t find my place on a CD so I just go to the next one and miss the rest of that disc. I don’t really mind. I can usually guess what happened to our hero in the meantime!

I think it would have to be a very good book to engross me so much that I couldn’t pay attention to driving. Daydreaming is definitely more distracting, expecially when I’m worrying.

I’m another big fan with a long commute. They’re great on the highway, with little concentration required to drive, but I go to the radio when in traffic. That’s partly for safety, and partly to appreciate the book more. In fact, I find I read more books now than when I had a 5-minute, not 70-minute, drive - at home, there are all kinds of distractions, my eyes would get tired, I’d get sleepy, endless reasons. But a well-paced performance by an actor who is experienced in this genre may take me less overall time and with more appreciation of the book, too. With several characters, a good actor can do a credible job changing voices, actually making dialogue easier to follow than in print (David Ogden Stiers’ performances of Tom Clancy novels are tours de force that way). Some authors read their own so they don’t have to split royalties, but only sometimes do they have truly listenable voices. Usually I’ll only read books I’d have read anyway; I won’t grab something just because it’s on tape.

My local library (which may be about to close due to the townspeople’s refusal to pay for any service they demand to have - another story) is part of a network that overall is pretty likely to have whatever I want to hear in stock; it just takes a few days to place an order. There are a few bookstores on my circuit that have large audio sections, even a couple that specialize in them. The major online dealers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble especially, have extensive selections (and I get a discount at B&N, too).