Distracted Holiday Driving Can Also Lead To Accidents

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The Holiday season isn´t always filled with joy and glad tidings, strong eggnog and laughter. It´s often a time meant for family and the inherent stress involved with family gatherings. This stress can be quite burdensome at times, taking over our thoughts throughout the day, despite what we´re actually supposed to be doing.

A new study has been published just in time for the holidays which has found that a “substantial portion” of automobile accidents occur when a driver´s mind begins to wander and think of things other than driving. A smaller percentage of these accidents has been blamed on a driver having “disturbing” thoughts. This report is particularly pertinent as the roads become more populated during the holiday season.

Other distractions, such as cell phones, have long been understood to cause car crashes. However, this new study set out to understand if drivers can be so distracted with their own thoughts that their risk of getting into an accident increases.

From April 2010 to August 2011, a team of French researchers interviewed incoming patients at Bordeaux University Hospital who had recently been injured in an automobile accident. These interviewees were asked to describe what was on their mind just before their accident occurred. The team of researchers collected the answers and set about assessing these thoughts to determine how disruptive or distracting they were.

These researchers also took some other common factors in automobile accidents into consideration. For instance, they asked each of the participants about traffic conditions, the state of the roadway at the time of the crash, and if they were driving in difficult situations.

Finally, the team then considered the emotional state of the driver just before the accident (were they mad, upset, happy, etc) and recorded the blood alcohol level of the driver.

Of all the drivers interviewed, 47% were classified as responsible for the crash, while 53% were classified as not responsible.

Once the data was collected and analyzed, the researchers said more than half (52%) of these drivers had reported some “mind wandering” just before the crash. A smaller percentage, 13%, said they were experiencing what the researchers call “highly disrupting/distracting” mind wandering just before the crash.

The French team also found that those who were experiencing times of intense mind wandering were more likely to be responsible for causing a crash. All told, 17% of those interviewed who said they had their mind on other things at the time of the accident were found to be responsible for the crash, while 9% of these distracted drivers were not responsible. The researchers took into consideration other factors which could have affected these numbers, but found them to be consistent throughout the study.

In conclusion, the authors of this study claim when drivers allow their minds to wander, particularly during times of deep and intense thought, they´re more likely to “overlook hazards and to make more errors during driving.” The team also hopes this study will help create new technologies to detect when a driver isn´t paying complete attention to the road.

According to these researchers, “Detecting those lapses can therefore provide an opportunity to further decrease the toll of road injury.”

This study has been published in a recent issue at BMJ.com.