Mindfulness needed to help steer clear from driving dangers

Research conducted by Monash University has found that the more mindful the driver was the less likely they were to engage in dangerous and distracting behaviours on the road.

As a staggering 92% of Australians admit to regularly daydreaming behind the wheel, mindfulness could help significantly improve on-road behaviour and reduce driver distraction, new research by Monash University has found.

As thousands of Australians take to the roads during the Christmas holidays, distraction looms as a major and growing concern of motor vehicle accidents.

Research conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) and the mindfulness experts at Monash University has found that the more mindful the driver was the less likely they were to engage in dangerous and distracting behaviours on the road.

Distracted driving has been found to be the main contributing factor in almost 16% of serious crashes resulting in hospital attendance in Australia, and in 10% of fatal and 15% of injury sustaining crashes in the USA.

Previous research by MUARC had found that mindfulness was associated with a number of positive cognitive outcomes, including improved concentration, situation awareness and reduced negative emotional reactivity.

“When applied in the road safety context, mindfulness may also play a significant role in improving driver behaviour, including preventing driver aggression, navigational errors and distraction, while increasing road safety,” researcher Associate Professor Craig Hassed said.

“Our studies showed that among more mindful drivers, distraction caused by internal temptations was lower by 85% and distraction by events outside the car was lower by 68% compared to less mindful drivers.”

The study, published in the international journal Mindfulness, found that the use of mobile phones, eating and drinking, and interacting with the vehicle’s dashboard hardware continued to be major causes of driver distraction.

Drivers also admitted to regularly interacting with climate controls (97%), being distracted by something outside the vehicle (96.5%) and changing music (96%).

Researchers also found that drivers regularly:

  • made or answered a call using their hand-held phone
  • text messaged
  • accessed the internet
  • ate or drank or smoked
  • interacted with their GPS system
  • read a map

A total of 312 drivers, between the ages of 18 and 86, participated in an online survey as part of the study which assessed levels of mindfulness and the frequency with which they engaged in 24 potentially distracting activities.

Dr Kristie Young said the study was significant in that mindfulness reduced the tendency to engage in distracting behaviour and reduced stress while caught in traffic or driving at high speeds on country roads.

“Lower levels of driver mindfulness was a significant negative predictor of the frequency of talking and texting on a mobile phone, using other technology, engaging in non-technology-based distractions, and being distracted by driver assistance systems,” Dr Young said.

“Distraction mitigation techniques like mindfulness are looming as essential to save lives on our roads especially among young drivers who have high rates of addiction to technology, and who overestimate their ability to multitask and underestimate the dangers of driver distraction.

“Talking on a phone while driving, even using hands-free technology, is associated with a fourfold increase in crash risk and texting or using the internet while driving can increase the odds of being involved in a critical event quite significantly.

“When attention is diverted from the driving task, a range of cognitive processes are impaired, including visual processing of the driving scene, the anticipation and identification of hazards and threats, decision making and the execution of appropriate responses to traffic scenarios.”

According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, more than 1200 road users were killed and approximately 36,000 sustained serious injuries in motor vehicle crashes on Australian roads in 2017.

The economic cost of road crashes in Australia is estimated at $27 billion, with further impacts of road trauma affecting families, hospitals and the wider health system, workplaces and governments.

This exciting Monash University collaboration is led by Dr Sjaan Koppel and the other Monash research team involved in this study were Dr Kristie Young, Dr Amanda Stephens, Ms Rachel Osborne, Dr Richard Chambers, and Associate Professor Craig Hassed. This team has also explored the relationship between mindfulness, driving anger and driving errors.