Mind wandering increases crash rate

Mind wandering increases crash rate

Intense mind wandering puts people at a significantly higher risk of crashing on the road and threatens the safety of others.

This finding came from a study conducted by French researchers and was published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Mind wandering, which can also be referred to as task unrelated thought, is when a person's thinking is irrelevant to the task they are currently engaged in. It is very common when people are resting or involved in a repetitive task.

Although it is normal for drivers to "zone out" for a temporary period, when their minds start focusing on internal thoughts, it can cause a serious distraction from the road, putting themselves as well as others in danger.

Historically, cell phones and other external distractions, have been associated with car accidents. A study, also from this week, demonstrated that pedestrians crossing the street while using a cell phone can be just as dangerous as distracted drivers.

However, there has been little research analyzing how inattention stemming from internal distractions, like worries, affect the safety of the road.

Therefore, the researchers of this study set out to determine whether mind wandering raises the probability of being at fault in a crash.

A total of 955 people (ages 18 and older) who were injured in a motor vehicle accident while driving, were interviewed by the team. The subjects were admitted into the emergency department at Bordeaux University Hospital between April 2010 and August 2011.

The participants were asked questions regarding their thoughts before the crash happened. The experts also evaluated their thoughts to determine how distracted they were.

The team took certain extenuating factors into account because they decreased the responsibility of the driver, including:

  • traffic conditions
  • road environment
  • traffic rule obedience
  • difficulty of the driving task
Blood alcohol levels and the emotional states of the drivers were also evaluated.

Forty-seven percent (453) drivers were responsible for the car accident, and fifty-three percent (502) were not at fault. More than half (52%) admitted that they were mind wandering prior to the accident, and the thought content was considered very distracting (intense mind wandering) in 121 patients (13%).

Intense mind wandering was linked to a greater responsibility for a car accident - 17% (78 of 453 accidents in which the driver was at blame) compared to 9% (43 of 502 accidents in which the driver was not at fault).

The same relationship was seen even after controlling for other variables that may have impacted the results.

According to the scientists, the link between crashing and intense mind wandering "could stem from a risky decoupling of attention from online perception, making the driver prone to overlook hazards and to make more errors during driving."

The results could lead to new ways of detecting periods of inattention among drivers. "Detecting those lapses can therefore provide an opportunity to further decrease the toll of road injury," the authors concluded.

Equilibrium: Crash Course Chemistry #28 (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice