By on July 25, 2017

BMW old Driver parking vintage

Researchers at the University of Leicester claim that spending several hours behind the wheel every day can adversely affect the human brain — sending the IQ scores of middle-aged Brits into the gutter.

In the experiment, researchers examined the lifestyles of over than 500,000 British residents between 37 and 73 for over five years, giving them routine intelligence and memory assessments. Those who drove more than two to three hours a day typically had lower brainpower at the beginning of the study, which continued to decline at a faster rate than those who did little to no driving.

Allow me to rephrase that for those of you with an exceptionally long daily commute: U.K. smart scientists say driving a whole bunch maybe makes you stupider. 

“Cognitive decline is measurable over five years because it can happen fast in middle-aged and older people. This is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking and bad diet — and now with time spent driving,” Kishan Bakrania, a medical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester, told The Sunday Times.

“We know that regularly driving for more than two to three hours a day is bad for your heart,” he explained. “This research suggests it is bad for your brain, too, perhaps because your mind is less active in those hours.”

While that is likely true if you’re a terrible motorist who immediately checks out when behind the wheel, that’s not the fault of the drive so much as it is the fault of the driver. Operating a vehicle is a complex and involved activity that persistently requires one to solve and anticipate new problems. Responsible drivers are constantly exercising their brain.

That’s not anecdotal evidence either. A study, published in Nature earlier this year, suggested exactly that in its introduction:

“Driving is a complex everyday activity that requires multiple types of sensory processing, cost-weighted decision making, precise motor control, and other abilities. Even on an empty road, drivers must continuously operate the steering wheel and pedals in consideration of complicated vehicle dynamics. Driving is also a vigilance task, which is often undertaken for prolonged periods of time, and carries a constant risk of injury or death resulting from collisions. Despite this, driving is commonly thought to provide pleasure, at least, in certain circumstances or among car enthusiasts.”

The study posits that driving should exhibit a similar brain morphology to any other developed skill, like learning an instrument or solving a puzzle. And, after collecting structural brain images from 73 healthy young adults (36 drivers and 37 non-drivers), it concluded drivers showcased significantly more volume in the left cerebellar hemisphere — which is associated with cognitive functioning, rather than motor skills.

Giving some credence to the Leicester study, this development plateaus once someone stops improving their abilities. If you stop trying to be a better driver, there’s no obvious mental benefit.

Bakrania suggests that the stress associated with driving could cause mental fatigue, which has been linked to cognitive decline. However his study also examined time spent watching television, which negatively affected IQ progression, and time spent on the computer, which positively affected it.

Frankly, the broad nature of the study is a little disconcerting. It might simply be that sedentary activities are bad for mental health, which driving can certainly be if you’re not willing to engage with it. Our advice to concerned motorists is to put on something mentally stimulating, find something engaging to drive, and change your route whenever possible.

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44 Comments on “Recent Study Claims Driving Makes You Dumber Over Time...”


  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Judging by the number of CUVs cropping up, I have absolutely no reason to doubt these findings.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    THIS IS WHY I DRIVE FAST!!

    As long as I can cover all my distance in less than about two hours each day, then I’m good, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Eddie_B

      Jim, I also drive fast. Something strange happens to me when I cruise at 75 – I fall asleep. Lack of coffee and sleep make it worse, but do not explain it. When I drive at 85, I am super alert without a problem.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    One is tempted to say that comments on car websites reflect the findings.

    It should be no surpruse that doing anything for long periids of time make people better at that activity at the expense of other things.

    But what about people who car pool or have kids and so have stimulating drives? Or listen to real news or podcasts or learn another language while driving?

    And they should have correlated amounts of pollutants in the participants’ brains, such as carbon monoxide, which cars spew out and is known to reduce IQ.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Not if you’re driving a 2002 – especially with a four-speed.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Why did the article have to lead off with a picture of my all-time favorite vehicle? So much so, that my wife made me a birthday card this year with a Baikal Blue 2002 on it (she even got the color of my once-owned beloved ’74 02). Yeah, no boredom or fear of being lulled while driving that little box on wheels. It was full-on tactile and analog. Zero digital in that thing. I loved it and it’s probably the only car I miss of all the ones I’ve owned.

      I can see the point of this article though. Driving is becoming more and more mind-numbing. What will happen when it becomes largely autonomous? I see visions of Wall-E…

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        I also miss my 1976 2002, which was my daily driver for 8 years – never let me down and when something wore out it was an easy DIY vehicle to work on. Great visibility, torquey motor, easy clutch and shifter – just a real fun car to drive – if only they had made the bodies out of galvanized steel.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I bought a 2002 with a 4-speed, but it isn’t much fun. Am I doing something wrong? What am I missing? Mine is a Saturn Ion, if that helps.

      ;)

  • avatar

    Would need to read the details of the study carefully. The fact that people with longer commutes had lower iq to start with is suspicious. It suggests that they may just be measuring surrogates for lower social economic status which are already associated with worse health outcomes. Ie you have a long commute because you are poor and live a long way away from where you work. This drives (sorry for the pun) the outcomes they measured not the driving itself

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @Mark Morrison – that is a rather interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      @ Mark Morrison

      My thoughts exactly. Too many socioeconomic themes at play to successfully isolate an independent variable.

      I’d also be interested to see if they bothered to study commuting generally, rather than just car commuting. If train commuting or subway/underground commuting made you less intelligent at faster pace than car commuting, the nominal and relative rates of deterioration would be far more useful to the general public.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Is there evidence that long commutes correlate with lower incomes? How about the wealthy rural enclaves, the fancy estates in the woods, the well heeled who commute from one urban center to amother?

      Maybe car commuting long distances is just dumb. Don’t you agree the millions of folks stuck in traffic jams at rush hour looks dumb? Do you know what that costs? Can you think up a less efficient way to get around?

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        “Maybe car commuting long distances is just dumb.”

        We have a winner!!!

        Who would ever have thought, without a “study,” that people observed doing dumb things, may in fact be dumb????

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    You know that’s not a photo from England, or the sign would say:

    NO COCKING ABOUT HERE

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    It would also be interesting to study average IQ of those who commute by various transportation modes.

    • 0 avatar
      zoomzoomfan

      I agree. What about someone that has to spend 2-3 hours sitting on a train every day? Or someone (in the future) that sits in their self-driving car blob for 2-3 hours while it drives them to work?

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        That kinda depends on the person- if you veg out then of course you’ll get dumber by the minute. If you read a book (or read a newspaper, read something online, do the crossword, listen to something that keeps your brain engaged) then you probably don’t get dumber.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Studies are also finding that navigation systems are making us dumber as well. The more we make things easier mentally the more our brains atrophy.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I bet this plays a big role. You no longer have to do much thinking while driving today, the car does everything for you: change gears, adjust climate, navigate, start/stop, park, stay in your lane, slow down, etc.

      I know I’ve become a victim of my navigation system before because people have asked “where is your hotel?” and I can’t even tell them the address or road its on as I just follow the prompts (turn right, take the next exit, etc). I remember years ago having to study a map before a trip to attempt to commit the tricky parts to memory. One of my first jobs was doing deliveries and learned that I often could find different businesses by their street address alone.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        ^^^ Yup. Former delivery guy here–by bicycle and by car for different jobs–and I got pretty good at making my own mental route. Also got pretty good at using my hands, feet, and knees to manage gas/brake/clutch/shift/steer/put delivery thing into plastic bag/roll down window/roll up window… but that’s neither here nor there.

  • avatar

    Ok here is the study abstract.

    https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/aje/kwx273/3964401/Associations-between-sedentary-behaviours-and?redirectedFrom=fulltext

    We investigate the cross-sectional and prospective associations between different sedentary behaviours and cognitive function in a large sample of UK Biobank adults. Baseline data were available on 502,643 participants (years 2006-2010). Cognitive tests included prospective memory [n = 171,585 (baseline only)], visual-spatial memory [round 1 (n = 483,832); round 2 (n = 482,762)], fluid intelligence [n = 165,492], and short-term numeric memory [n = 50,370]. After a mean period of 5.3-years, between 12,091 and 114,373 participants also provided follow-up cognitive data. Sedentary behaviours [Television (TV) viewing, driving, and non-occupational computer use time] were measured at baseline. At baseline, both TV viewing and driving time were inversely associated with cognitive function across all outcomes [e.g. for each additional hour spent watching TV, the total number of correct answers in the fluid intelligence test was 0.15 (99% confidence interval: 0.14, 0.16) lower]. Computer use time was positively associated with cognitive function across all outcomes. Both TV viewing and driving time at baseline were positively associated with the odds of having cognitive decline at follow-up across most outcomes. Conversely, computer use time at baseline was inversely associated with the odds of having cognitive decline at follow-up across most outcomes. This study supports health policies designed to reduce TV viewing and driving in adults.

    They make no mention of adjustment for potential confounders and note the comments on TV viewing another variable strongly influenced by socio economic factors. It also suggests that the study showed only that driving time and TV viewing time at baseline were associated with decline at follow up. This does not show a causal effect at all because there is no evidence supplied showing that driving for long periods of time between baseline and follow up measurements causes a cognitive decline.

    So I call BS and all the study has done is show that surrogate markers of lower education and socio economic status (high amount of TV watching which is correlated with other sedentary behaviours) and long commutes is associated with worse health outcomes than those who are wealthier, healthier, better educated and have healthier lifestyle habits, which should be a surprise to no-one

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      It sounds like they had an agenda to begin with, an answer before the question. Then they set about “proving” what they knew with a study that picks and chooses what it wants to know in order to extrapolate the desired outcome.

      • 0 avatar
        bachewy

        Hear hear! My experience in England taught me that driving there is a giant pain in the arse. Since lorries can drive in any lane they want, and spend 15 miles trying to pass each other, the average driver is stuck in hell. All the pent up anger from trying to get anywhere in a timely manner must surely be bad for the brain, long term.

        Plus it seems half the people in England absolutely hate cars to begin with.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Hm ;

    Could be ~ on 6.26 I zoned out for an instant whilst riding my Moto and rode it straight into the mountain going 40MPH…..

    I guess I shouldn’t think about my beautiful and perfect in every way Grand Daughter when I’m operating a motor vehicle .

    Or, maybe I just have a low IQ =8-) .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Ko1

    “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” – Miller, Repo Man (1984)

  • avatar
    raph

    “Driving is a complex everyday activity that requires multiple types of sensory processing, cost-weighted decision making, precise motor control, and other abilities. Even on an empty road, drivers must continuously operate the steering wheel and pedals in consideration of complicated vehicle dynamics. Driving is also a vigilance task, which is often undertaken for prolonged periods of time, and carries a constant risk of injury or death resulting from collisions. Despite this, driving is commonly thought to provide pleasure, at least, in certain circumstances or among car enthusiasts.”

    This is what came to my mind – I don’t fog over when I climb into a car and go someplace unless I’m just beat down tired.

    My advice for driving has been “think two steps ahead” for a long time now and that makes it a fairly involved process from looking as far down the road as you can while maintaining situational awareness and anticipating and planning for events before you get to them – that seemed like an engaging and stimulating process to me.

    • 0 avatar
      roverv8i

      When driving around town if it’s not very engaging due to familiarity I find myself noticing other drivers and thinking about what they are doing, good or bad. Also, how traffic is flowing and other such things. Not just complaining but actively thinking about ways that they could improve there driving, the road etc. In other works working my brain when the drive does not work it enough.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    But tweeting while on the bus makes you super smart right?

  • avatar
    r2s2

    May I (only slightly) paranoiacally suggest that this is an early shot in the inevitable war to eliminate active drivers. “Self-driving” cars don’t seem to be that far off, and the technology, automotive, and government folks are going to have to make money off them to recoup their investments.

    Yes, I’m relatively new; only my second post ever.

    • 0 avatar
      I_like_stuff

      That was my thought as well. This is part of the on-going plan to get rid of cars by the left.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        “This is part of the on-going plan to get rid of cars by the left.”

        You must drive a lot.

        This is like the accusation from the right that the left wants to end all use of oil immediately. Neither is true. But you get to feel like you’re smart enough to notice a huge truth that must be made public. A truth that includes exposing the vast stupidity of the left.

        People other than simpletons distinguish between reasonable, efficient and responsible use of both oil and cars; compared to what is going on now. Unfortunately such obvious distinctions are lost on people like you. Either out of stupidity or because you fight dirty. We can’t make wise decisions on the basis of lies.

        • 0 avatar
          I_like_stuff

          U-huh.

          http://www.thevocal.com.au/time-ban-cars-city-centre/

          https://www.fastcompany.com/3060722/norway-wont-ban-gas-cars-yet-but-it-will-make-them-harder-and-harder-to-use

          https://www.fastcompany.com/3060577/world-changing-ideas/this-summer-paris-will-ban-all-cars-made-before-1997

          http://www.businessinsider.com/why-new-york-city-should-ban-cars-2015-6

          http://www.union-bulletin.com/opinion/letters_to_editor/hey-it-s-time-to-ban-cars-and-trucks/article_8f25ed2c-4ea5-11e6-9ab1-5f86a81037cc.html

          https://www.treehugger.com/cars/its-time-really-do-something-about-air-pollution-and-ban-diesels.html

          You were saying….

          • 0 avatar
            brandloyalty

            Save me the trouble of reading your collection of links by pointing out where any lefty demands that cars be banned. That is what you claimed and what I pointed out was false.

            So you come back and post links to well-known circumstances where certain equipped motor vehicles are being banned. And a letter to some obscure publication fron a right wing nut case. Do you not grasp that, for instance, banning diesel engines in city cores is not the same as a complete banning of cars? Do you believe the science about diesel particles harming lungs? Do you think sewers are a leftist plot and we should still dump our sh1t in the street?

            There are all sorts of circumstances where cars are already banned. There are all sorts of restrictions on how cars are equipped. And have been for a long time. Do you somehow conflate those into a complete ban on cars? Do you take the prohibition of driving without a muffler as evidence that the left is banning cars? Or the requirements to have a license and insurance? And if you don’t, why do these new proposals and restrictions strike you as a blanket ban, but not the others?

            Basically your argument doesn’t make sense.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Brand Loyalty – Lefties generally don’t like cars because cars represent freedom and the left thinks that if people have freedom they will make too many “wrong” choices. They won’t eat the right things in the right amount, they might buy a Silverado instead of a Prius, they might choose a suburban McMansion instead of a small city center apartment, or worst of all vote for a Republican/Tory instead of a Democrat/Labor. Yes there are some lefties that like cars, but they are generally the ones most upset that the masses also have cars – some of which are nicer and faster than their own, which is clearly wrong because that smug Cadillac driver probably doesn’t even have a Ivy League degree, works with his hands, and lives in a Red state.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      65: Trolling again?

      You know what I say?

      When you have that smug look on your face while driving (which all car commercials seem to show these days), then all is well in your world. If that look goes away, then it’s time for a new gas hog that you can tap the throttle on to dispatch your enemies, and bring that $hit 3ating Grin back to your puss. Driving is a competition, don’t be a LOSER!

    • 0 avatar
      hpycamper

      stingray65: Extremists on both sides expouse ideas that limit freedom. How about we start moving away from extremism?

  • avatar
    runs_on_h8raide

    The reason for this study….much like many so-called studies meant for mainstream consumption is to steer (forgive the pun) the masses toward a goal of the powers that be. In this case, disregard the actual study itself. It is the purpose of such a study one should question….the ultimate goal of putting everyone in autonomous mobility devices.

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