By on October 29, 2009

There’s an excuse for everything, and if a UC Irvine study published in Cerebral Cortex [via CNN] is to be believed, genetics might just be the reason some people can’t drive for squat. A protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is typically secreted while performing a given task (in this case, driving), helping facilitate communication among brain cells and helps retain memory. But the study has identified a gene variant which causes individuals to secrete less BDNF, hindering learning and improvement at task performance. The UC Irvine team, led by Professor Steve Cramer, recruited 29 subjects to drive 15 laps of a twisty simulated driving course, measuring how well they learned to improve their performance. The seven subjects with the identified gene variant performed 30 percent worse. “These people make more errors from the get-go, and they forget more of what they learned after time away,” says Cramer, who estimates that 30 percent of Americans have the BDNF-inhibiting gene variant. “I’d be curious to know the genetics of people who get into car crashes.” There’s currently no commercially-available test, so bad drivers can’t definitively blame their genetics just yet. But they can still take lessons, hang up the cell phone, or chant the mantra “my car is a deadly weapon” whenever they get behind the wheel. Regardless of your genetic predilections, once you pass a driver’s test, the safety of other motorists is your responsibility.

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30 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Are Bad Drivers Born That Way?...”


  • avatar
    GS650G

    Lucky for this nimrod my child wasn’t playing on the curb in front of his truck when he did this or a team of surgeons would be laboring for hours to remove a Chevy from his backside.

    Took out a fireplug too. Way to go Ace.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    Then how do you explain Nascar’s tobacco chewin, beer drinkin, front porch scholar drivers?

  • avatar

    Switched the video… GS650G is referring to this one.

  • avatar
    50merc

    And for his encore performance, the driver will repeat the maneuvers with a 16 foot U-Haul trailer hooked to his car!

  • avatar
    James2

    I’ve been a victim of someone who “drove” like that. Asswipe clipped my front fender… drove away too, without even so much as a “sorry…”. If I ever catch that person… I will be arrested for attempted murder.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many people in small cars like Corollas and Civics who think their cars are Olds 98s or something twice the size; they have absolutely no conception of space and distance. These are perhaps the same retards who park one to three car lengths behind the car in front at a red light.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Genetics eh?

    I would have bet that the same parents who followed the driving skills of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Knight Rider,” and “The French Connection” raised crappy drivers.

    Or maybe it’s the parents that use the visor mirror as their own personal Hollywood backstage makeup station, their car as a private phone booth, and their seats and floors as a kitchen table.

    Oh well. Let’s keep chucking our own major faults overboard and look for another thing to place blame on. Hey…where are video games in this argument?

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Went to go get a gift from town last evening, and in a span of 20 minutes, I had to actually slam on the brakes because two different drivers simply turned right in front of me from sideroads (with stop signs, I might add). Brake (and horn) test!

    It’s pretty much like that wherever I drive, now.

    It has gotten to the point that I am ready to move to the Falkland Islands, or something. Having a land mass 1/2 the size of Wales and 2800 people sounds like paradise to me.

  • avatar

    Wow this is ridiculous, this guy hit that one car several times! I bet people try to leave this place before this schmuck gets in his car.

  • avatar
    cwmoo740

    Oh man. You guys need to see
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3nSb1O72fs

    Talk about a bad driver. And then he just drives away like nothing happened.

    Here’s hoping to God that the people in these videos are drunk out of their minds. It’s the only excuse.

  • avatar
    MMH

    Two thoughts:

    1. Really? We find a physical brain function that “hinder(s) learning and improvement at task performance,” and the first thing we try to correlate it with is bad driving? How about figuring out a way to squirt BDNF into the heads of kids who are stuggling to learn how to read? Or something else, you know, useful?

    2. If this is proven, and a commercial test can be developed, (assuming I am not predisposed to be a lousy driver), will my insurance rates drop steeply? I might think that was useful.

  • avatar
    Via Nocturna

    Meh, I liked the original clip with the idiot and his truck more. That song got old very quickly.

    I submit this (in)famous clip of a lady flipping her Skoda wagon.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    This study may be relevant to predicting who would make a lousy track driver, but how relevant is that to real driving? Maintaining a safe following distance, a speed safe for conditions, and being alert to others on or near the road are more conducive to safe driving than the ability to turn in quick lap times.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I commented about something along these lines recently, in my experience a lot of people are flat out limited in their ability to handle speedy stress well. I think it has a lot more to do with upbringing or chance chemistry than genetics though. In risky sports and in car driving some people just hit a comfort wall, and for a lot of people that means not driving in the far right lane because there is merging traffic to deal with. In some, we could say near retarded, people it appears that means panicking in low speed parking situations.

  • avatar

    The smartest driver was the second driver behind the wheel in this video.The other two clowns are occasional TTAC contributors- me and my twin brother Jerry Sutherland

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    This week in York, a Toronto suburb.

    http://tinyurl.com/yzxkq5u

  • avatar
    gosteelerz

    There several components to being a good driver.
    The first one was mentioned in this article, which was car control. Race drivers excel at this but that does not make them a good driver, overall.

    The second is street smarts. This skill involves the ability to read situations and identify hazards. The ability to avoid trouble in general. People who are strong in this area tend to have very few near misses, let alone accidents.

    The last one I can think of is strong spatial skills. People who lack this skill tend to have difficulties parking and may have the odd ding or scratch on their car. This does not mean that they are more prone to having collisions on the street.

    Oddly, from my personal observations, there appears to be no link between intelligence and driving abilities.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    It’s not clear whether this condition affects only activities like driving or whether these people are all round f—ups.

  • avatar

    My parents had some friends, a slavic lit scholar and his wife a psychiatrist, eastern European Jews, and their bad driving was legendary among their friends. They weren’t dangerous, but their car always had a lot of little dents.

    But, yeah, like any other skill, driving skill varies from person to person. However, it’s hard for me to imagine that one common gene can screw it up. I’d think it would be a combination of genes. Of course, it helps to learn when you are young. I suspct both of my parents’ friends were in their 30s by the time they learned. My grandmother, who learned in her 60s, also wasn’t very good, but she was better than these two.

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    David Holzman wrote:

    My grandmother, who learned in her 60s, also wasn’t very good, but she was better than these two.

    Heh, my grandmother got her license in her 60s as well … after taking more than 100 lessons! She had accidents on each of her first two times behind the wheel by herself. On her first solo trip the damage was mild … and restricted to her own car, but the second time out she sideswiped two police cars, parked in front of the station. After that, the family sat her down and convinced her to let us drive her wherever she needed to go.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Russycle

    +1

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    A good pilot never lets his plane get into a position where he needs to use his good piloting skills. I think this goes for cars and their drivers.

    If you are bad at something you basically have two choices: avoid doing it or, (if avoidance is impossible) take care when you are doing it and do it right. It’s called learning.

    Everyone should be able to drive a car (or any other task from speaking a foreign language to ballroom dancing or playing chess) to a minimum acceptable standard if they take the time actually to bother to learn a few basic rules.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    This is a timely post.

    Last night when out for dinner, in front of our restaurant window my wife and I saw a Lexus GX470 driver use the Braille method to get into a spot that had more than enough room for the vehicle. It was too close to the car in front and hit it all 4 times in its back-and-forth pattern of getting into the spot. Passersby were staring at the guy as he parked.

    The guy gets out, sees he has tons of space in the back, gets back in to move the car backwards, gets out to see that he has now crowded the car behind him, leaving just as much room in front as was originally in the back, then gets back in and pulls out of the spot to illegally park with blinkers on at the end of the block.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    The problem may be, scientifically, for all of the reasons that you mention. I think it is more a case of this individual being a f’ing imbecile who shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car.

  • avatar
    John R

    Egads. What was this person trying to do??? Leave the lot?

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    Parents have to train their children to drive. I have gotten two kids through in the last two years. During their exam they are allowed several (16?) demerits. One kid got three, the other seven… and five of those were on one issue alone, which we continued to work on even after she got her drivers license. Both of my kids are very good. Our state requires 50 hours behind the wheel with a parent or other authorized adult. The number of parents who just sign off is crazy. One kid has gotten in three accidents in her first six months of driving… but her mom said she was scared to drive with her, so she just signed off on the training. Another kid can’t get his license, has failed the test several times, but that doesn’t stop him from driving. Both of my kids were not allowed to take their test until I was totally comfortable. And I held them to extremely high standards. If the car wasn’t perfectly parked between the lines, and I mean within an inch, they were moving the car. Speed control, it better be within 1 mph and never over. Stops mean STOP, not even a barely moving roll, STOP. It has paid off big time in their driving behavior. We’re in a small enough town and I have heard positive things about their driving from people I know. Neither one got their license in the minimum amount of time. In fact the younger one got her license 9 months late. Not entirely due to her driving, there were some other constraints. Both kids can parallel park, we spent several hours on that alone. Parents have to take control of teaching their children… but I live in a fantasy land, most parents can’t drive either.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Drunk, sober, medicated, eating lunch, on the phone, mentally deficient, or just plain dumb, it doesn’t matter.

    The driver in the video may well be one of the “5% worst drivers” that I speak of. You may call me cruel or close-minded for wanting to remove the 5% worst drivers each year, but my motivation is really only driven by love. Love for our society, love for my fellow humans, love for my friends and family.

    If we lived in a minimally responsible society that valued life, we would take that person off the road. Maybe he has a medical condition. This should pop up during a driver test (which should be annual; more often for people with drug or alcohol addiction or of certain health issues). Seriously, it’s the loving, considerate, and humane thing to do, not only for the drivers around him, but also for him and his beloved family members.

    He should be removed from the roads for a minimum of 12 months. If he gets his substance or prescription drug issue resolved, then let him re-test next year.

    If we got him/her off the road, whether for a year or a lifetime, we would INSTANTLY improve traffic all along his/her normal commuting route, as well as along any roads he/she uses during evenings and weekends.

    We would avoid untold future repair expenses, too.

    I dare anybody to try to justify allowing that person to continue to drive under ANY circumstances.

  • avatar
    dean

    @cardeveloper: I think part of the problem is that we allow parents to teach their children. I wonder if mandatory training by licensed instructors wouldn’t be better. You get to create a bunch of jobs, too.

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    @dean
    Interesting thing, MI has mandatory training time even with an instructor… and many of the companies severely short the kids driving time. We spent a little bit more for a company that completed the correct amount of training, but there’s only so much a professional can do. The parents still have to work with their young unfilled minds of terror :)

  • avatar
    YotaCarFan

    What I think is worse than the person’s bad driving skills is the fact that he/she drove off without leaving a note on the damaged vehicles apologizing and providing his name/insurance info. This indicates a narcissistic, irresponsible personality. Personally, I think that selfish and/or irresponsible attitudes result in more accidents than incompetence.

  • avatar

    Even bad drivers can be made better … There are three main capabilities that lead to safe driving – body, vision, and mind. And since the mind is in charge of quickly recognizing and making decisions based on what you are seeing, it plays a critical role. What has recently become clear is that brain performance can be improved with the right mental exercises (just like physical fitness improves the body).

    I am the CEO of Posit Science and we recently introduced DriveSharp, brain fitness software recommended by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. It contains proven technology to help people be safer behind the wheel by training the brain to think quicker and react faster. For more information, a free online demo and a free evaluation please go to http://www.drivesharpnow.com

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