THURSDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Drivers often "zone out"
behind the wheel, and this mind wandering contributes to many car
crashes, a new study finds.
French researchers who reviewed data on nearly 1,000 collisions
say half of all car accidents may be caused by a driver's wandering
thoughts and worries.
"Day dreaming -- mind wandering -- accounts for a significant
proportion of car crashes," said lead researcher Emmanuel Lagarde,
a senior researcher with the National Institute of Health and
Medical Research at the University of Bordeaux.
"It is difficult to imagine what we can do about that, because
we cannot avoid thinking while driving," he said.
This study, published online Dec. 13 in the journal
BMJ, is part of an effort to understand dangerous driving
distractions, Lagarde said. The goal is to develop technologies
that can alert drivers to hazards they may not pay attention to, he
External distractions, such as phoning or texting, are known to
be linked with crashes. But inattention from distractions such as
worries is not well understood, Lagarde said.
Researchers use "mind wandering" to describe thinking about
things unrelated to what one is doing at the moment. It often
happens when resting or during repetitive tasks.
All drivers occasionally let their minds drift. For some, this
temporary zoning out has disastrous consequences. Taking your mind
off the road may make it easier to overlook traffic hazards or to
make more driving errors, Lagarde's group said.
Some people may be more prone to mind wandering than others,
Lagarde said. These may include drivers with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or people taking medication, he
Whether there are born mind wanderers isn't known, he added.
For the study, Lagarde's team interviewed nearly 1,000 adult
drivers injured in car accidents between April 2010 and August
2011. The patients were questioned in the emergency room on average
less than five hours after the crash.
The researchers asked the patients about their thoughts just
before the accident, and analyzed how distracting those thoughts
They also took into account factors such as road and traffic
conditions and whether rules of the road were followed. The drivers
also had their blood alcohol level and pre-crash emotional state
Of all the accidents reviewed, 47 percent were the driver's
fault, the researchers found.
In 52 percent of the crashes, drivers said their minds wandered
somewhat just before the crash. Thirteen percent said their
thoughts were highly disrupting or distracting -- what Lagarde
called intense mind wandering.
Intense mind wandering increased driver responsibility for the
accident 17 percent, compared to 9 percent of crashes where the
driver was not at fault, the researchers noted.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety, said distracted driving has always been a problem.
"It's not just phone calls and texting that distract drivers;
they're distracted by a lot of things absent phones," Rader
And that's a challenge for safety advocates, he said, because
laws can target and perhaps curb cell phone use but attention
lapses will continue to cause collisions.
For more information on distracted driving, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and