Ask The Best And Brightest: Are Bad Drivers Born That Way?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Dean Dean on Oct 30, 2009

    @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.

  • Cardeveloper Cardeveloper on Oct 30, 2009

    @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 :)

  • YotaCarFan YotaCarFan on Oct 30, 2009

    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.

  • Spaldrich Spaldrich on Oct 30, 2009

    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