Genetics may lead to unsafe driving, higher car insurance

A study in Cerebral Cortex determined that driving skill is negatively impacted by a gene variant, potentially leading to more accidents and higher car insurance costs.

Thirty percent of people have a gene variant that limits their production of a memory-boosting substance, says lead researcher Steven Cramer. As a result, people with the variant cannot learn to do repetitive tasks as well as those without it.

Researchers had 29 people - 7 with the variant and 22 without - drive a twisty, challenging road course. Four days later they ran the course again - and the drivers with the variant did not remember the course as well the second time. They also drove worse overall.

Brains with the gene variant secrete less of a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It's a protein that protects nerve cells and enhances their communication with other cells. While Cramer's study did not try to correlate BDNF production with accident rates, the study does indicate that drivers with the BDNF-limiting gene are more prone to mistakes.

There's no commercial procedure that tests for the variant - but all drivers should be cautious and alert to reduce accidents and keep car insurance rates low.

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Posted: November 05, 2009

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