Do you daydream when you drive? If you’re like the majority of people, the answer is a big, whopping YES.
According to a recent study, up to 70% of drivers daydream behind the wheel. And, while their minds are wandering, their lack of awareness is putting other drivers and motorcycle riders at risk.
According to Medical News Today, over 2 million people sustain injuries in a motor vehicle accident every single year. 32,000 people die as a result of the crash.
If that weren’t scary enough, the act of driving with distractions (involving any activity that takes the driver’s attention away from the road) was the cause of 391,000 injuries and 3,477 deaths in 2015 alone.
However, the truth is that distractions such as mind wandering (when thoughts enter into our minds and take our attention away from the task in front of us) may not be avoidable.
Carry Baldwin of George Mason University and her colleagues wanted to see just how often the average driver let their mind wander, and if the effects were dangerous enough to label the distraction as a “driving hazard.”
To accomplish this, Baldwin and her colleagues gave nine adults the opportunity to participate in a five-day driving assessment.
According to Medical News Today:
“On each day, participants engaged in two 20-minute driving simulation sessions, which involved driving down a straight, repetitious highway at a consistent speed. These sessions were designed to replicate a commute to work and back.
Between each of these “commutes,” participants were required to complete a written test known as the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART).
“The SART was included in the experiment to roughly simulate cognitively demanding office work, which could potentially influence participant performance or mind wandering frequency on the second drive of each day via a depletion of executive resources that would otherwise maintain attention towards the primary task,” the researchers explain.
“However,” they add, “the purpose of including the SART wasn’t to examine the effect of the SART per se, but rather to ensure that enough mind wandering instances occurred throughout the course of the study for comparison of mind wandering and on task states.”
During each session, electroencephalogram (which identifies electrical patterns in the brain that are common with mind wandering) took measurements of the participants’ brain activity
In addition, the utilization of buzzers led drivers to become aware of their daydreaming. When the buzzer went off, the participants were to report whether or not their mind was wandering leading up to the buzzing sound, and whether or not they were aware that they were daydreaming.
On average, the drivers were only aware of their daydreaming 65% of the time. However, reports show that the drivers were actually daydreaming 70% of the time.
According to Medical News Today:
“INTERESTINGLY, THESE BRAIN PATTERNS WERE ALSO ASSOCIATED WITH REDUCED RECEPTIVENESS TO EXTERNAL STIMULI, WHICH SUGGESTS THAT MIND WANDERING MIGHT IMPACT CONCENTRATION DURING DRIVING.”
“Still, the team is unable to confirm whether mind wandering is dangerous during driving, but they believe that this possibility should be investigated in future research.:
“MIND WANDERING MAY BE AN ESSENTIAL PART OF HUMAN EXISTENCE AND UNAVOIDABLE. IT MAY BE A WAY TO RESTORE THE MIND AFTER A LONG DAY AT THE OFFICE,” SAYS BALDWIN. “WHAT WE ARE NOT SURE ABOUT YET, IS HOW DANGEROUS IT IS DURING DRIVING. WE NEED ADDITIONAL RESEARCH TO FIGURE THIS OUT.”
IF MIND WANDERING IS PROVEN TO BE A DRIVING HAZARD, BALDWIN SAYS THAT THERE ARE A NUMBER OF STRATEGIES THAT COULD HELP TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM.
“IN TERMS OF IMPROVING SAFETY IN THE FUTURE, ONE OPTION COULD BE AUTONOMOUS TRANSPORT SYSTEMS, LIKE SELF-DRIVING CARS, THAT ALLOW PEOPLE’S MINDS TO WANDER WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO, BUT RE-ENGAGE WHEN THEY NEED TO PAY ATTENTION,” SHE NOTES.