Study finds genetic link between driving convictions, crashes and everyday behavior


A new long-term psychological study of drivers has found an association between driving convictions, crashes and everyday behaviors such as consuming junk food or consuming alcohol. The researchers also found evidence that this relationship is associated with a genetic variation in the metabolism of serotonin – the same neurotransmitter targeted by many antidepressants. This suggests that risky behaviors while driving and in life may have a common psychological basis.

In an innovative study, researchers from the team of Professor Jaanus Harro from the University of Tartu (Estonia) combined psychological, genetic and biochemical data from the unique Estonian psychobiological study of driving behavior with police and insurance records. 817 drivers (49.2% male, 50.8% female) participated in the study. For a while, they filled out questionnaires to measure factors such as impulsivity and aggression: in addition, they underwent a series of blood tests and genetic analyzes. By linking these findings to police and insurance databases, researchers began to uncover some of the links associated with unsafe driving. Presenting their findings at the ECNP conference in Lisbon, they report that 137 drivers who had been warned for exceeding speed limits tended to have faster reaction times, but also achieved higher scores. in terms of physical and verbal aggression, undertaking more intense physical activity, and had higher consumption of junk food (including energy drinks).

According to the principal investigator Tõnis Tokko:

“We have been able to identify many associations between daily risk-taking and risky driving. For example, we found that subjects who drank energy drinks at least once a week were twice as likely to speed up as those who did not drink energy drinks as often. be linked to a need for excitement, rather than the drinks themselves being a direct cause of traffic violations; the underlying psychological makeup of drivers can lead them to both speed up and want to consume more energy drinks or junk food. Likewise, our psychological tests showed us that those with quick decision-making abilities were 11% more likely to speed up, and those with a higher arousal seeking were 13% more likely to speed up.

He continued:

“Driving history is an excellent platform to study behavior regulation; most people drive, and convictions or driving accidents are objective records – they stay in the databases. strenuous exercise, drinking alcohol, or consuming junk food and energy drinks.

The researchers also looked at the genetic traits of volunteer drivers. They found that certain variants of a gene that controls serotonin transport (the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism) were associated with unsafe driving. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter believed to be involved in depression and which is also regulated by many antidepressants. “We have found that certain genetic variants are associated with risky behaviors both while driving and in other areas of life; but this is an early discovery and has yet to be confirmed“said Tõnis Tokko.

The Estonian Psychobiological Study of Driving Behavior is a long-term study that began collecting data in 2001. It is believed to be the only long-term study in the world to track drivers while taking into account psychology and related biology. Initially, it aimed to identify the behavior patterns of drunk drivers and speeding drivers to try to prevent these behaviors, but it has since expanded to take other factors into account.

Tõnis Tokko said “We are able to track various factors related to driving over a period of years, including psychological behavior, blood tests to understand biological changes and genetics. We also have a precise idea of ​​those of these drivers who have committed traffic violations or who have had accidents. We believe it is a unique system. This study shows that reckless people in traffic also tend to take risks in other areas of life, and our research shows that there may be a biological tendency for this behavior.

Dr Oliver Grimm, senior psychiatrist at the University Clinic in Frankfurt, said:

“This study is very interesting, because it is already known from large registry studies that ADHD and traffic accidents are more common in adults. This specific study from Estonia is now helping to better understand how this accident prone group is made up of both genetic risk and personality traits. “

Professor Oliver Howes, Professor of Molecular Psychiatry at King’s College London, said:

“This study adds to other work showing that psychological and biological traits are linked to the way people behave in the world. It is important to recognize that associations do not mean that one leads to l ‘other”

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