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Why are some drivers more dangerous than others? Genetics could play a role

head brain AP
Posted at 5:30 AM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-23 08:30:56-04

From texting behind the wheel to speeding, running red lights, or driving impaired — why are some drivers more dangerous than others?

ABC15 talked with Dr. Emily Bashah, a Valley-based psychologist who says genetics matter.

"They found that people who tend to be risk-taking, drunk driving or aggressive driving in general, they tend to have a lower threshold for stress and they tend to be sensation seeking."

Many of these drivers are doomed because of a particular gene that can limit their brain cells from communicating effectively, according to the results of a study from UC-Irvine.

Dr. Steven Cramer, a neurology associate professor who helped lead the study also says, "these people make more errors from the get-go, and they forget more of what they learned after time."

Known as BDNF, Dr. Cramer says the gene variant limits the availability of a brain-derived protein that keeps memory strong by supporting communication among brain cells and keeps 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.

It's science that may help to explain why some drivers continue to make bad choices.

"They're not going to have that sense of caution because their cortisol levels are not going to rise to the level of average people."

Dr. Bashah says the research also shows punishment won't help these drivers change their bad-driving ways.

However, the data does show that compassion can make a difference.

"What they did find as a mediating factor, which is so fascinating is, that support maybe from a judge who showed interest in the ability to make better decisions did lower their risk level of making more bad driving decisions."

That difference-making support could also come from a therapist, loved ones, and family members.

When you are driving, Dr. Bashah says use the time as an opportunity to take a mental break, away from the phone and any other distractions to get there safely.

She also says, if you do spot a distracted driver, remember their behavior is not about you.

"We have a tendency as humans to make it about us. It might be helpful to say, you know what? That person really needs to go... I'm just going to let them pass."

For red-light runners, Dr. Bashah says, "The best thing I can suggest for this is, imagine the person that you love most is in the car with you. Also, imagine the person you love the most is in the other cars surrounding you. Think about how that might alter or change your behavior."

Finally, be aware.

Drivers who focus on the road reduce the need for excessive hard braking, erratic lane changes, and mistakes that can lead to major life-altering consequences.

Dr. Bashah can be reached by email: or phone at 602-909-0408.