Americans have a new pandemic-related problem to worry about: zombies. No, not the kind that kills to eat brains, but the type that kills because their own noggins aren’t operating at full capacity.
So-called Zoom zombies are terrorizing U.S. drivers and pedestrians, according to the Root Insurance Distracted Driving Awareness Survey, released today. According to the survey, 54% of motorists who have driven their vehicles soon after using a videoconferencing platform report having trouble concentrating on the road.
The age of the person behind the wheel impacts how well he or she can focus on driving. For Generation Xers, the attentiveness problem drops to 48%, while for millennials, it’s 61% and Gen Z, 65%.
“Don’t Zoom and drive” may become the new popular refrain for the pandemic era.
“COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way we interact with our vehicles,” Root Insurance founder and CEO Alex Timm says in a written statement. “As many abruptly shifted to a virtual environment, Americans’ reliance on technology dramatically increased along with their screen time, causing a majority of drivers to carry this distracted behavior into their vehicles.”
Use of videoconferencing tools has skyrocketed since last March when COVID-19 brought normal life in the United States to a halt. Tools like Skype, Google Meet, and Webex are now the go-to for everything from family birthday parties to theater performances, though it’s work meetings that generally require the most concentration.
Experts explain that videoconferencing saps more brain power than in-person ones because you have to pay more attention. Participating in a video call, usually from your own home, requires you to block out all the personal belongings surrounding you, interruptions from roommates or partners, children running around, household chores, etc.
“Attention is a limited resource,” Stefan van der Stigchel, a professor of experimental psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, tells Fast Company. “All of that resource needs to be allocated to a screen . . . It’s really poor VR. You need to transport yourself to a location where you’re not physically present, while ignoring all distractions around you.”
The inability to zero in on an activity can impact whatever you do after the videoconferencing call, and the lack of focus while behind the wheel can have serious and potentially deadly consequences.
“If you go on the road, you just used a large portion of your concentration and that will leave you with less ability to concentrate,” he explains. “Driving on the road requires quite lot of attention, especially if it’s a route you’ve not taken before.”
Distracted driving was already a problem before the pandemic, and national data shows that traffic fatalities have increased over the last year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 28,190 people died in car crashes during the first nine months of 2020, up 4.6% from the same time the previous year.
To combat the potential for driving accidents due to low concentration post-videoconferencing, van der Stigchel suggests picking an activity to do before getting behind the wheel.
“Do something after the video call that doesn’t require concentration—laundry, take a walk. Do something that goes relatively automatically. This will let your brain recharge.” he says.
His advice is to cut down on videoconferencing exhaustion in general by reducing the number of Zoom meetings you have—for instance, by switching some to phone calls that you can participate in while using a headset and taking a walk, instead of staring at a computer screen.
And if you must do them on screen, schedule a five- to 10-minute break between video calls, rather than slot them one right after another. During the bit of downtime, get up and do something, like use the restroom, get a cup of coffee, or stretch, to give yourself a chance to mentally relax and reenergize.
The Root Insurance survey of 1,819 nationally representative U.S. adult drivers, ages 18 and older, was conducted March 12- 17 by Wakefield Research.