Inattention is a major cause of traffic accidents. Here, we show that, contrary to common-sense expectation, familiarity with a route is itself a source of driving impairment. This effect may be attributed to increased mind-wandering along familiar routes. In the present work, participants followed a vehicle along a route with which they were either familiar or unfamiliar. During the experimental session, the lead-vehicle braked at random locations, forcing participants to brake to avoid a collision. Participants were also required to respond with a button press when they noticed pedestrians heading toward the road from a sidewalk. In Experiment 1 we found that familiar drivers follow the lead vehicle more closely and are slower to notice approaching pedestrians. In Experiment 2, with following distance held constant, reaction times to central and peripheral events were longer for familiar drivers. Consistent with the mind-wandering hypothesis, all these effects were eliminated in Experiment 3 when drivers were made to focus on the driving task.
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