Distracting thoughts and driving

By Siski Green , Wednesday 19 December 2012

Your wandering mind could put you at increased risk of crashing your car.
Woman driving carDoing repetitive or undemanding tasks such as driving increases your chances of zoning out

Ever found yourself thinking about something completely unrelated to the task at hand? Most people have, but according to new research published on bmh.com some people’s minds wander so far from the activity they’re undertaking that it actually puts their lives in danger – such as when they’re driving, for example.

Knowing that distractions such as mobile phones have been linked to an increase risk of crashing, researchers from France wanted to find out whether being distracted by your own thoughts was also linked with an increase in risk. So, over a period of more than a year, they interviewed 955 drivers who had been injured in a car crash and had gone to hospital seeking treatment. Each patient was asked to describe what they had been thinking about prior to the accident, and then researchers assessed how distracting the thought was.

They also considered other factors such as traffic, driving difficulty, weather/environmental conditions and the driver’s emotional state prior to the crash.

Of the 955 drivers, 47% were considered responsible for the crash. More than half reported thinking about something other than the driving before the crash and in 13% of those cases the thoughts were classed as extremely distracting.

When they analysed the results, they found that mind wandering was associated with an increased likelihood of a person being responsible – 17% had had distracting thoughts compared to just 9% for people who were not responsible for the crash.

Doing repetitive or undemanding tasks such as driving, washing up or hanging out clothes on the line are the types of activities most likely to make you zone out but, unlike washing up or mowing the lawn, being behind the wheel obviously puts you at greater risk if you’re not fully focused on driving.

The study authors hope that their results could possibly help people avoid these types of accidents because if a driver is aware that a lapse in thought could put them at increased risk, then they could potentially recognise when their mind is wandering and remain focused on the road instead.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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