Research suggests that drivers spend around 70 percent of their time mind wandering while behind the wheel.
The researchers are unable to confirm whether mind wandering is hazardous, but they note that lack of driver awareness is a key risk factor for motor vehicle accidents.
Study co-author Carryl Baldwin, of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Every year, more than 2 million people are injured and 32,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents across the United States.
Distracted driving – defined as any activity that deflects attention from driving, such as texting or talking to passengers – is considered a major player in motor vehicle accidents. In 2015, distracted driving was involved in around 391,000 injuries and 3,477 deaths in the U.S.
Mind wandering – which is described as spontaneous, internal thoughts that divert our attention away from a primary task – can be considered a distraction. However, unlike texting, it is a distraction that cannot always be avoided.
For their study, Baldwin and colleagues sought to determine how frequent mind wandering is during driving, and whether it should be investigated as a potential driving hazard.