On September 11, truck driver Normand Lavoie was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of causing the death of three high school boys after he admitted that he 'zoned out' while driving through a construction zone in May 2015 and smashing into their stopped car. Lavoie also injured a flagperson who still is not well enough to return to work.
The 41-year old Winnipeg driver told police that he was in "la la land … I'm there behind the wheel but I'm not." He added that he was on "auto pilot" because of the flat Saskatchewan landscape. There was no evidence of violating Hours of Service rules, drug or alcohol use.
What many drivers call 'zoning out' is a phenomenon known in scientific circles as 'mind wandering,' and contrary to what many truckers believe, it may not be relieved by listening to the radio, singing or any other activity. Moreover, it can occur during a monotonous task, such as driving on a dark, empty highway, or during an engaging activity such as watching an exciting movie or reading a suspenseful book.
We spoke with Jonathan Schooler, PhD., who studies mind wandering at the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara.