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Inattention blindness: Dangers of the wandering mind

As people navigate the roadways of Nashville, a number of them may be engaged in activities other than driving, like changing the radio station, searching for something in the backseat or carrying on a conversation over the phone. While this may seem innocent, research published by AAA shows that people who are involved in tasks other than driving are more likely to be involved in a serious car accident.

The issue stems from the brain’s inability to efficiently multi-task. Drivers may feel as though they are able to maintain a conversation over the phone while concentrating on the road. However, the opposite is true. The National Safety Council refers to this phenomenon as inattention blindness, and it occurs when drivers are mentally distracted. Rather than focus on both tasks simultaneously, the brain switches quickly back and forth between each task. As a result, there are moments when the distracted driver is not at all focused on driving.

When drivers are cognitively distracted, they are not able to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving field of vision. Furthermore, they are less likely respond to certain driving hazards, like objects in the road, pedestrian crosswalks, bicyclists, bad weather conditions and reckless drivers. People who are cognitively distracted are more inclined to run red lights without even knowing it, and a number of auto accidents have occurred due to this inattention. Researchers encourage drivers to put away their cellphones while they are behind the wheel in order to increase not only their own safety, but the safety of everyone else on the road.

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