At times, our thoughts can feel like they’re racing faster than the traffic around us while we’re on the road – but letting our minds stray behind the wheel is a form of distracted driving. Mental distractions can be just as dangerous as physical ones, whether we’re consumed by anger, worry, and stress, or just simply letting our minds wander.
This wandering is also known as “inattention blindness,” or looking but not seeing. You may have experienced inattention blindness if you’ve suddenly found yourself pulling into your destination and wondering how you got there. This autopilot mindset means that your brain was less focused on the important task of driving safely, leading to slower reaction times behind the wheel.
Mental distractions to be mindful of while driving include:
- Strong emotions, including road rage
- Being too caught up in music or podcasts
- Overly engaging in conversation
- General stressors, such as the pandemic, family matters, or future plans
Driving with intention can be a safe way to combat inattention blindness. Drivers who are in tune with their personal mental state and who use situational awareness can better anticipate the actions of others on the road and react appropriately.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and an excellent time to teach company drivers about inattention blindness and remind them:
- Multi-tasking is a myth. Studies have proven that our minds can only focus on one thing at a time.
- Take a few deep breaths when feeling strong emotions.
- Never engage with aggressive drivers on the road – emotionally or physically.
- If weather permits, open a window for fresh air to help stay alert.
- Listen to the radio as a less interfering task alternative.2
- Plan ahead: have directions ready, check the weather, and pack all needed items before leaving.
- Take care to not “zone out” when driving on familiar roads or routes. They may know the road, but they can’t anticipate the actions of other vehicles, pedestrians, or animals.
- Take personal accountability for their mental state behind the wheel. Only they will recognize when inattention blindness starts, so it is their responsibility to stay focused on the road.
Above all else, remind them that you want them to make it home safe today and being cognitively aware and present while driving can help prevent a devastating crash and save lives – so evaluate your mental state before you drive.
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