Cologne, Germany – A new study in Germany has found that driving on familiar routes may be dangerous because the brain is not as active as when the driver is navigating through unfamiliar territory.

Physicist Dr. André Bresges worked on the study with representatives from the University Hospital Essen and the Police Academy of the North Rhine-Westphalia School of Government, examining a test group consisting of 16 experienced and 16 less-experienced drivers.

Using a driving simulator specifically designed for the study, the drivers first watched a simulation of a vehicle driving along a course with bends and obstacles, over and over, for six minutes. In a different room, they then drove along the virtual course until they became as familiar with it as with their daily drive to work. Following the test, they were asked to steer the vehicle using a joystick over the course, while scientists monitored their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The findings showed that the brain is more active and reacts more along unfamiliar routes. When the drivers became familiar with the route, their brain activity lessened, among both experienced and inexperienced drivers. The study concluded that drivers drive on familiar routes without consciously orientating themselves.

The findings have been implemented into police training courses for road safety advice, while police in North Rhine-Westphalia are currently examine whether the data from the study can be applied to road safety measures.

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