The coronavirus pandemic sucks. It’s completely changed the way that we live our lives these days, and the human cost around the globe is staggering. While it’s true the joys of modern technology have allowed us to adapt in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few decades ago, not all of these adaptations have proven positive. According to a new report from The Detroit Bureau, video conferences are having a massive impact on the way that we drive. So-called “Zoom Zombies” are wreaking havoc on our roadways and, causing an uptick in car accidents. In fact, 2020 saw the death rate per mile driven in the U.S. reach its highest increase since 1924.
The National Safety Council has released preliminary data that suggests 42,060 Americans were killed in car accidents last year. That represents an eight percent increase from 2019, despite the fact that Americans drove the 13.2 percent fewer miles year over year. When adjusted for the mileage, the death rate among drivers in the United States was up 24 percent in 2020. That is shocking, considering how much emptier our roadways were over the past year. However the report has a theory as to why that may be the case, and it has to do with Zoom Zombies. People have become increasingly dependent on technology and have dramatically increased their screen time during the pandemic, and this has led to these behaviors continuing behind the wheel.
Furthermore, the way our brains are fatigued by video conference calls is different from a traditional meeting. The report notes that people have to pay closer attention to what is happening on a conference call in order to understand what is being said. This lack of comprehension can continue after the call, when folks try and relate what they’ve just been told to an actionable task. This wandering of the mind leaves drivers less attentive of what is happening around them, and makes it harder to react to dangerous situations on the road. This can easily lead to car accidents, fatal or otherwise. Hence the name Zoom Zombies.
Root Insurance did a survey of 1,819 adult motorists, and found that 54 percent of them reported difficulties concentrating on the road after a video conference call. This problem was worse for younger adults, with 65 percent of Gen-Z respondents reporting these difficulties. Millennials fared slightly better at 61 percent, while Gen-Xers clocked in at 48 percent. These are startling figures to say the least. Combine this with atrophied skills behind the wheel, and the Zoom Zombies issue is more easily understandable. Driving is incredibly difficult stuff, forcing your brain to input a dramatic amount of information at once. Without constantly driving, your mind does lose some of its ability to process this information effectively. We might take the task for granted, but there’s a reason AI hasn’t really cracked the case quite yet.
Be careful out there folks. Driving is a part of our lives that we simultaneously love and loathe, but it is dangerous. Try to get your head in the right space before sitting behind the wheel, especially in these strange times. And as always, keep your eyes off those damn screens.