In this Canadian study, a driving simulator and a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine were used to identify the neural underpinnings of human driving behaviour by examining areas of the brain involved in driving. A total of 16 participants took part in the study and their ages ranged from 20 to 30 years. Areas of the brain were examined using under different levels of demand, such as talking to a passenger, listening to music, or making a left turn at a busy intersection. Results indicated that the patterns of brain activation depend on the type of driving task. As a consequence some distracting tasks can sacrifice areas in the brain that are important for visual attention and alertness in order to recruit resources to perform a secondary cognitive task. Based on the results of this study, future research should examine the effects of brain damage on the ability to adapt to daily driving tasks. Results also suggested that vehicle manufacturers have a responsibility to improve road safety by refraining from installing various communication devices, or by installing deactivation systems if drivers attempt to use the devices while the car is in motion.
Schweizer, T. A., Kan, K., Hung, Y., Tam, F., Naglie, G., & Graham, S. J. (2013). Brain activity during driving with distraction: an immersive fMRI study. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7.