Bad drivers? Blame their genes

By | October 29, 2009

Good drivers can make the road a friendly place for their fellow drivers and milk great gas mileage (or equally great performance) out of their vehicles.  However, for every good driver on the road, there’s plenty of bad ones.  According to studies, cell phones play a role in the poor overall quality of driving that leads to many accidents across America.  However, a new study shows the problem may be more complex, pointing to a link between genes and bad driving.

Researchers at University of California Irvine found that people with a specific gene variant performed 20 percent worse on a driving test than those without.  The results were confirmed by a subsequent test.  The scary part?  According to expert estimates, 30 percent of Americans have this gene.

Dr. Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor and senior author of the study states, “These people make more errors from the get-go, and they forget more of what they learned after time away.”

The neuroscientists discovered a potential cause for the bad behavior.  When active, people with the specific variant get less functioanlity from a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) than people with the wild type (“normal”) version of the gene.  This is not a good thing, as BDNF helps support communication between brain cells and keep them performing at their peak.  Typically it’s secreted in active parts of the brain — but those with the variant just don’t get as much. – dt

People with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 percent worse on a driving test than people without it – and a follow-up test a few days later yielded similar results. About 30 percent of Americans have the variant.

“These people make more errors from the get-go, and they forget more of what they learned after time away,” said Dr. Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor and senior author of the study published recently in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

This gene variant limits the availability of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor during activity. BDNF keeps memory strong by supporting communication among brain cells and keeping them functioning optimally. When a person is engaged in a particular task, BDNF is secreted in the brain area connected with that activity to help the body respond.

Previous studies have shown that in people with the variant, a smaller portion of the brain is stimulated when doing a task than in those with a normal BDNF gene. People with the variant also don’t recover as well after a stroke. Given these differences, the UCI scientists wondered: Could the variant affect an activity such as driving? – tc

My ex used to joke about bad Asian women drivers … I wonder … how does this play out across genders, ethnic and other groups?

Low serum BDNF has been reported in women with depression or eating disorders such as
anorexia nervosa, particularly when compared with obese patients, but also when women with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are compared with normal- weight individuals. – link

One thing is for sure, I’m going to feel much less comfortable now driving around  skinny nervous women.  And since these disorders are triggered by childhood abuse, I wonder if we can tie in the high number of road deaths in America as a consequence of molestation and neglect? Ripple effect.

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