St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/28/2011 : 9:23 AM
According to a University of California, Irvine press release, bad drivers may have their genes to blame.
The press release summarizes a study published recently in the journal Cerebral Cortex led by UCI researchers found people with a certain gene variation performed more than 20% worse on a driving test than those without the gene and then did worse than other participants when they returned four days later to take the test again-and they also retained less of what they had learned.
The study had 29 people learn to navigate "tough-to-navigate curves and turns" on a simulator "track" designed by UCI researchers. Seven of the participants (24%) had the gene variant and 22 didn't. The test involved driving 15 laps while "[r]esearchers recorded how well they stayed on the course over time." All participants returned four days later to retake the test.
The study states that about 30% of Americans have the gene.
The study found that with that gene variation did worse learning and then they did worse recalling what they had learned according to the senior author, Dr. Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor at the University of California at Irvine.
"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."
Earlier research had found that those with the gene variant "a smaller portion of the brain is stimulated when doing a task than in those with a normal BDNF gene."[i]
"Behavior derives from dozens and dozens of neurophysiologic events, so it's somewhat surprising this exercise bore fruit," Cramer said.
Clearly, it's early days yet-more studies would have to be done and, as Cramer pointed out, it's unknown if this translates to crashes or not.
Iow, up to 30% of American drivers may have the "bad driver" gene-a lesser ability to learn at least more complicated driving skills and perform them competently and a lesser ability to retain what they learned.
Though this study was done using car drivers, it could be that the results would translate to learning to operate a motorcycle and riding it in traffic.
For years now, rider educators have complained that student quality has deteriorated. Many claim a larger number of students do not learn as well and/or perform as well.[ii] But it could be that there is a "bad rider gene"-or rather, those who have the bad driver gene also make bad riders but the public perception of riding and the way training was done didn't keep bad drivers off the roads but kept bad riders off of motorcycles:
In the past-when instructors claimed student quality was higher-riders had a negative public image as well as dangerous. Because of the dangerous reputation, it could be that it attracted those who were more skillful drivers-ones without the gene variation.
But two factors also may have kept those without the gene variant from finishing the course or, if they did, riding on the roads:
In the prior curriculum, students were almost always counseled to drop the course if they fell once whether any injury was sustained or not. Also, in the previous curriculum the course was almost always taught over two weekends or several days (or evenings in some places). Although retention wasn't directly tested, it was indirectly revealed.
It could be that even though no one knew there really was a bad driver gene those with it revealed themselves by poor performance and retention and were counseled out before they continued on to an injury crash on the range or in real life. It could be then that fewer students with the bad driver gene took the course-and of those who did dropped out before graduating or going on to ride.
This latest boom changed the image of a riders-and the changes in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's curriculum set out to give the impression learning was both fun and easy. It may be that a greater percentage of those with the bad driver gene took the course.
But Motorcycle Safety Foundation also had changed the course in three important ways:
* It was now generally taught in 2.5 days-and some places taught it even in less time than that. Needed retention was a matter of hours not days.
* MSF also strongly encouraged instructors to allow students to continue on no matter how many falls they had until the student counseled themselves out.
* The curriculum also was dumbed down, according to many rider educators including less repetitions of skills and less difficult corners, lower speeds, etc.
Yet the bad driver gene study showed that poor performance over repeated laps revealed the bad driver gene.
It could be, then, that the percentage of bad students hasn't changed but that changes in how instructors are instructed to coach and changes in how students are taught allow more of those with the bad rider gene to progress both to the point of serious injury or to graduate and end up in crashes on the road.
Hopefully, more research will be done on drivers-and some research at all be done on riders.
[i] It also noted that people with the variant also don't recover as well after a stroke. However, when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington's and multiple sclerosis, those with the gene variant keep their mental acuity longer.
[ii] Even though the reported deterioration was simultaneous with the change in curriculum to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic RiderCourse and an increasing number of subpar ranges and an increasing number of instructors who were trained using the new instructor's curricula