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Study Suggests Drivers ‘Zone Out' More Often Than You May Think

Call it mind wandering, daydreaming or zoning-out, driver inattention happens to most of us, according to results from a recent study.

Researchers at George Mason University found that people’s minds wandered up to 70 percent of the time during a simulated work commute.

They also noticed specific changes in brain patterns during periods of inattention.

The study, published in August, was aimed at exploring the concept that mind wandering is a potential cause of distracted driving crashes.

Participants were asked to stare at the center of a driving simulator for periods of 20 minutes. Occasionally they would hear a tone. Researchers would then ask the driver if he or she was paying attention to the simulator or thinking about other things prior to hearing the tone.

The study’s participants said they were “mind wandering” in 70 percent of the probe responses. Often, they said they were aware that they were daydreaming when they heard the tone.

Researchers said they used monitoring tools to compare driver performance in the simulator with mind wandering. They say the study suggests participant drivers who are daydreaming are more likely to drive slower and have trouble staying in the lane, in comparison to the time when they reported being “on task.”

Also, a driver’s ability to stay on task was reduced on afternoon drives, researchers said.

The study was paid for by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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