We all daydream occasionally; maybe a bit more than we realize. It’s fun, sometimes relaxing, and perhaps good for our mental health. But the truth be told; it can also have dangerous consequences if it happens while operating a vehicle.
According to a study conducted by Erie Insurance, around 61 percent of the 17,200 fatal car crashes involving distracted driving during the past five years coincided with the driver daydreaming or being lost in thought. As you can see from this statistic, this is an extremely common phenomenon for those on the road—and as previously mentioned in articles of this series, it’s one of the most common causes of distracted driving. This is concerning because if drivers are not completely focused on their surroundings while behind the wheel, it means reaction times and vehicle control are significantly hindered.
Why does daydreaming play such a major role in driving distractions and what are the triggers which cause it to occur?
One of the triggers for daydreaming while driving is called habituation, which stems from frequently repeated stimulus. This often happens to people who regularly commute, drive the same routes repeatedly or have extended periods of highway driving. As individuals become accustomed to their environments, navigating the road becomes almost an unconscious reflex and no longer actively top of mind. This means drivers notice fewer important details about their surroundings while daydreaming or even bored.
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Another daydreaming trigger is sensory overload, which means one or more senses is experiencing over-stimulation from the environment. While driving, we are always inundated with thousands of details every second. Based on the simulations the driver is experiencing, the brain identifies what it perceives as the most important details, moving those to the front of the conscious mind and blocking what it determines is not relevant to the prime activity of driving. Without filtering, a driver’s mind would quickly become paralyzed by trying to process the enormous amounts of information. Like filtering, daydreaming is also a defensive mechanism the brain employs to protect it from overloading.
While daydreaming cannot be entirely eliminated, it can be minimized. Here are a few ideas that will help reduce this form of distraction.
Use a 360-Degree View
Create a 360-degree view by properly adjusting all mirrors, looking farther ahead, looking where you want to go and regularly checking details through windows and mirrors. Safe drivers actively implement these scanning techniques to constantly monitor and observe what is happening all around them. Keeping your eyes in motion provides situational awareness to identify and avoid hazards but it also keeps the brain focused on its key responsibility―safe driving.
Change It Up
Try to avoid activities and routes that will cause the habituation phenomenon. If you’re in a set routine and take the same roads every day, mix it up: Make it interesting and be an explorer. You might discover alternate routes that are safer and more interesting to travel. By switching up your surroundings, your commute will not become boring and redundant.
Taking long drives? Use that smart phone in your pocket for something good. Before getting into your vehicle, set an alarm for every 5-10 minutes. The beep (or whatever ringtone your phone is set to) will serve as a reminder to stay focused on the road ahead and will help prevent you from losing your train of thought and getting lost in a daydream.
Remember, anytime the conscious mind wanders away from its task of safely operating a vehicle, it can potentially put you in a dangerous situation. Remain aware of what’s happening around your vehicle so you can arrive at the destination safely every time.