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Deadly Driving Habits - Study on the effect of Routine in Driving

18 February 2010 University of Cologne - Universität zu Köln

In a study, the Cologne physicist Professor Dr. André Bresges has examined why drivers make fatal errors on familiar routes. Prof. Bresges worked on the study with Prof. Dr. Elke Gizewski from the Universitätsklinikum Essen (University Hospital Essen) and the Fachbereich Polizei der Fachhochschule für öffentliche Verwaltung NRW (the Police Academy of the NRW School of Government). They examined a test group consisting of 16 experienced and 16 less experienced drivers.

Using a driving stimulator that was specifically developed for the study, the test persons first watched a stimulation of a vehicle driving along a course with bends and obstacles over and over again for six minutes. In a different room, the test persons then drove along the virtual course until they became as familiar with it as they are with their daily drive to work.

Following this the test persons were asked to steer the vehicle using a joystick and to observe the course while scientists monitored their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When certain areas of the brain are activated, the energy requirement of the active nerve cells, and therefore the vascular activity of the brain area, changes. FMRI measures the changes in vascular activity in the brain producing cross-section images.

The findings of the study show that the brain is more active and reacts more along unfamiliar routes. When the test persons became familiar with the routes, the activity of their brains became less; this was the case for both the experienced and inexperienced drivers. This means that drivers drive on familiar routes without consciously orientating themselves.

The Police in North Rhine-Westphalia are currently examining whether the data form the study can be applied to road safety measurements while the findings have already been implemented into police training courses for road safety advice. It must be made clear to drivers that there are also risks involved with taking familiar and seemingly harmless routes. The risks groups, i.e. young professionals, especially bakers, are to be specifically targeted.

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