Don't think and drive

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A Spanish researcher recently confirmed what I have always known: It's difficult to think and drive at the same time.

Psychologist Luis Nunes determined that when drivers concentrate on an unrelated spatial or visual task, their eyes fixate longer on certain objects. This "zoning out" can impair a person's ability to make quick judgments.

This happens to me while commuting to and from work. It's a phenomenon caused by the familiarity of the route. The car zips along and I'm ruminating on a conversation with a colleague or wondering what to cook for dinner. Suddenly, I don't recall the last mile and a half.

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I'm not trying to scare anybody here - my driving record is spotless. But, unlike some people in the survey, my mind is more likely to woolgather than to solve complex spatial problems.

The study claims that some abstract thoughts - such as "Human rights are one of the most important objectives to achieve" - are less distracting than others. Conversely, the thought, "My room has a small round table and a window on the left," has high imagery content. Of course, if I were driving down the highway thinking about the layout of my rooms, then I've got bigger problems.

Dr. Nunes suggests that drivers learn to recognize distracting thoughts, and save them for later. I don't know about other people, but switching thoughts is not as easy as flipping a radio dial.

I prefer Nunes's other recommendation: Listen to music. That way, at least I have a soundtrack to zone out by.

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