LAKEWOOD, Colo. (KDVR) — State troopers are warning drivers to pay attention after mind-wandering crashes doubled in Colorado last year.

FOX31 went on an exclusive ride-along with Colorado State Patrol to learn firsthand about the growing problem. These are not people on their phones, but still, their lack of attention could end — and has ended — in extreme danger and death on the roadways.

“It could be any time of the day,” CSP Trooper Gabriel Moltrer said. “I’ve seen instances where people have actually hit the rear of semis from not being fully aware of their surroundings, and they just end up just driving right into them. People not navigating their turns properly because their mind is elsewhere.”

In 2022, when state troopers determined a human factor for an injurious or fatal crash caused by distraction, the second-largest human factor was “looked but did not see,” or a person’s mind was elsewhere. In fact, troopers determined that “inattentional blindness,” or daydreaming, caused crashes in Colorado by more than double last year, jumping from 30 in 2021 to 76 in 2022.

“This impacts not only you, but it also impacts somebody else,” Moltrer said. “Even if it’s a single vehicle and you’re the only occupant, other people are feeling that in the long run. You could have loved ones, friends, family or colleagues.”

What are signs of ‘inattentional blindness’ on the highway?

Troopers are keeping an eye out for specific signs of daydreaming or mind-wandering, asking other motorists to do so as well. 

“You could see somebody coming up too fast on a vehicle, you could see a vehicle weaving, you could see that really close tailgating,” Moltrer said. “Those are just some signs that they could just be off somewhere. They’re like on autopilot.”

Moltrer spotted signs of this as FOX31 rode in the patrol vehicle on Tuesday. He noticed one driver coming up close behind a vehicle and not using a blinker as they changed lanes.

“That’s one of those things where they could be distracted and that’s why they’re coming up fast, going into the next lane, compared to being able to slowly go and properly use their turn signal enough time getting into the next lane,” he said. “Any type of thing, inevitably, can mean the difference between life and death.”

Whether you are a professional driver or an average license holder, drivers can make conscious efforts to decrease the chance of missing important cues because of inattention blindness. CSP recommends the following:

  1. Be aware that we are all prone to distraction, including daydreaming, and take it seriously.
  2. Eliminate distractions: Put your phone out of reach, get your music or navigation set before you begin driving, and eat/drink outside of the vehicle only.
  3. Look for cues: Road signs warn of potential hazards, and environmental cues like wooded areas and busy sidewalks are opportunities to refocus when your surroundings change.