We have all been driving a stretch of road when we realize that we don’t remember the past few miles or so.
Sometimes you can make it all the way home from work or school without really remembering the
Zoning out while driving is a part of human nature. But when is it more likely to happen?
And why do we do it, if it can be potentially dangerous?
When Does You Mind Wander
You are more likely to zone out while driving when you are driving on familiar roads.
“Mind wandering is commonplace in the most common of places.” – Van Winkles
In a study performed by the University of Waikato in New Zealand, a survey of drivers’ habits was taken.
It was reported that drivers’ minds drift more when they are on familiar roads than on new routes.
The brain is also more likely to zone out when a person is tired.
Who Is Likely To Zone Out
More young drivers reported that they let their minds wander than older drivers did.
Drivers who had more road violations, and other attention lapses reported while driving also zone out more often than most.
Studies show that mind wandering is reduced when drivers are on unfamiliar roads, probably because they are forced to pay more attention to the roads and signs.
Also, drivers who are in a rush actually have more focus.
The extra adrenaline and stress from running late keep the mind sharp.
Why You Zone Out
The brain is taking in millions of sensations at once, and therefore, it processes the most important ones first.
Because of this, we all have a limited attention span before the brain just starts to wander and become distracted.
When there are too many things going on in the brain, it becomes unable to perceive some things and switches to the Default Mode Network.
This network is essentially an auto pilot mode. It is comprised of groups of brain structures that work together and are active when you are at rest.
These areas of the brain are not as active when you are paying attention and engaged in something specific, but become active when the brain isn’t involved in any specific task, like daydreaming.
Zoning out or daydreaming happens throughout the day and isn’t specific to just driving.
It’s hard to measure when the brain is in this state, however, because once you realize your mind is drifting, you stop letting it drift.
How Dangerous Mind Wondering Is
In 2010 and 2011, a study of fatal car crashes was conducted by the Erie Insurance Group.
They found that 1 in 10 of the 65,000 accidents taken into consideration were caused by distractions while driving.
62 percent of the accidents were chalked up to daydreaming, which was 5 times more than talking on the phone or texting.
While you might feel awake, daydreaming while driving is dangerous because you may not be conscious of your surroundings.
You might see something without really seeing it. When daydreaming your reaction time isn’t as fast, even though you are still awake.
Zoning out can impair a driver’s ability to stay in their lane and respond to other drivers.
One of the biggest dangers of daydreaming is that it is an internal distraction and not an external one.
It is easy to eliminate the external distractions, but harder to recognize and prevent internal ones.
How To Maintain Focus
Daydreaming while driving can’t be eliminated completely due to human nature, but it can be reduced. Here are some tips on how to minimize daydreaming while driving:
Make sure to continually shift your gaze. If you keep your eyes in motion, your brain will stay more focused.
Try new roads. If you tend to take the same route home, try a new way home.
Taking the same route over and over will cause you to zone out more easily. New roads will stimulate your senses.
Imagine what would happen if another driver came into your lane? What would you do if the truck in front of you stopped?
This will help you recognize what is going on around you and help you stay alert. You will also be ready for something if it does end up happening.
Eat something. Chewing on something will help you avoid daydreaming, whether it is gum or some potato chips.
Remember that driving is dangerous. Take a second and think about the potential dangers of the road and why it is so important to pay attention.
Utilize passengers. While you may already have a backseat driver in the car who doesn’t let you swerve an inch, make sure that passengers keep you engaged and tell them to speak up if they see something on the road.
So hopefully next time you are on your way home from work, you will be able to keep your mind more focused and alert to have many more safe trips home.
This article was written by Alyssa Gisseman who is a student at Brigham Young University. Alyssa is studying English language and editing.
She is an active Wikipedia editor and currently does copy writing and editing at Wallaroo Media. She loves researching and sharing what she learns with others, especially when it is a topic as important as this one.
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