Thinking While Driving

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According to a story today in USA Today, talking or texting on a cell phone isn’t the only way to endanger yourself and others on the road. Concentrated thinking about anything causes similar distraction, at least if these researchers are correct-

The group, led by Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at MIT’s AgeLab, found that a driver’s ability to focus on the driving environment varies depending on the “cognitive demand” of a non-driving activity. That is, the deeper the level of thought in a driver’s mind, the less he focuses on his surroundings.

Good drivers routinely scan the road ahead and around them, looking for potential hazards that they might need to react to. When drivers face even light levels of cognitive demand, they scan the road less, Reimer says.

“In the past, the emphasis was on whether you’re distracted or not distracted,” he says. “This is too simple of a categorization. There are levels of cognitive demand, and those levels are statistically distinguishable.

“The level of thought going on has a relationship to how much a driver is aware of the driving environment,” he says.

Thinking while driving: there should be a law against it. Maybe when a cop pulls you over, the first thing he or she should look for isn’t an open container, but an open book (or an audio book), or any other tell-tale trace of thoughtfulness. College professors, of course, should be immediately suspect.