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.

Subscribe to our fortnightly health newsletter for more fascinating health news and features.

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.


  • Thumb

    Drink Driving

    THINK! and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) are joining forces to warn drivers that getting behind the wheel after a festive tipple could see them end up behind bars this Christmas. A hard-hitting television advert highlighting the consequences of drink driving will be shown throughout December as part of the Department for Transport’s THINK! Christmas drink drive campaign.

    Read on

  • What to look for in a windscreen

    Driving in fog

    Stay safe when visibility is reduced by fog, rain or spray. The Highway Code says you must use headlights when visibility's seriously reduced which generally means when you can't see for more than 100 metres or the length of a football pitch.

    Read on

  • Many over 50s are cutting down on their driving

    Be careful with your keys

    Over 50s experts, Saga Motor Insurance, have today sounded a warning to the nation's drivers after their research revealed that one in ten car owners still keep their car keys on a key rack visible from outside the house, making them an open target for thieves.

    Read on

  • Safe driving tips

    Safe driving tips

    The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and Saga Motor Insurance give their top 10 tips for driving safely.

    Read on

  • Car acronyms explained

    Car acronyms explained

    Have you ever read through the classified car ads in your local paper, and given up because you’re faced with a wall of jumbled up letters? Some of the ads simply don’t make sense.

    Read on

  • The great British seaside

    Reinventing the family car journey

    Remember when children in the backseat had to make do with I Spy and pub sign cricket on long car journeys? It’s a very different story today thanks to a multiplicity of gadgets and ‘in car’ entertainment that allows them to watch DVDs, play games and listen to music or audiobooks in their own bubble.

    Read on

  • Doorway

    Why do I forget the reason I went into a room?

    If you forget what you intended to do as you move from one room to another, the answer may be to go open-plan

    Read on

  • Motor thumbnail

    Car insurance

    Superb cover and excellent customer service, that's why over one million drivers insure with us.


  • HCP thumbnail

    Health Cash Plan

    You can claim up to 75% of your common everyday healthcare expenses including dental and optical treatments.


  • Saga Health Insurance

    Health insurance

    A comprehensive range of competitively priced HealthPlans. 3 months free when you pay by monthly Direct Debit.



Type your comment here

 characters remaining.

Saga Magazine

For more fascinating stories and insightful articles, why not try Saga Magazine for just £1 for 3 issues.

Saga Magazine e-newsletter

Sign up to our free newsletter today

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for all the latest recipes, gardening tips, prize draws, interviews and more delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Saga Magazine app

You can now read your Saga Magazine on a huge range of mobile devices - from the Kindle Fire to an iPhone or iPad.

Saga Magazine's 2014 calendar

Snap up your calendar for just £7.99

From deep midwinter to the heady days of summer, we've chosen 12 winners from our readers' stunning images. To see for yourself why they were chosen, buy your 2014 Saga Magazine calendar today.