Back in October of 2009, a bunch of articles were published with a single divisive topic. A study had recently been completed, and the results implied that bad driving skills may be hereditary. The study sparked some debate and then faded back into obscurity, but it did present an interesting question. It’s time to take a look at it again and see if any conclusions can be drawn.

The 2009 Study

The original study was conducted by a group of neuroscientists from the University of California Irvine. They tested a group of 29 individuals on a virtual track designed to simulate difficult driving conditions. Of the 29 people tested, 7 had a certain gene variant.

• This gene variant causes the brain to produce less of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

• This means a smaller part of the brain is stimulated during certain types of activity, such as driving.

• During the test, the 7 people with the gene variant did not do as well on the simulated track as those without the gene variant. The test was repeated a few days later with similar results.


This may cause some people to believe their genes are to blame for their bad driving habits. However, there are a few issues to address before they can really jump to that conclusion.

• For one thing, this was a very small test. To really trust the results, the sample size would have to be much larger.

• Secondly, the test hasn’t been repeated, or if it has, the results haven’t been reported.

• If we want to be sure of results, the study should be completed again with a different sample group.

• Finally, there doesn’t seem to be a reliable test available commercially to find out if people have that gene variant. It’s hard to claim a genetic predisposition to drive badly when there’s no way to be sure a person actually has that gene.

In short, it might just be more cost effective to take online traffic school instead of doing a full gene mapping. ?

Nature Versus Nurture

Despite the lack of concrete evidence from the study, there may be another way in which driving skills are passed down. Most new drivers are taught how to drive by a parent. If that parent has some bad driving habits, those can easily be passed down to the teenager.

For example, imagine a man named John learned to drive in 1935. That was before turn signals were standard equipment on cars. John never got used to the turn signals once he had a car with them. Because of that, he might not have taught his son Jack in 1960. Jack then thinks turn signals are unnecessary and doesn’t teach them to his son James in 1985. Finally, James neglects teaching turn signals to his son Jimmy in 2010. Now there’s a guy driving around in 2018 without using his turn signal, all because his great-grandpa James never learned about them.

That’s an extreme hypothetical example, but the point still stands. Driving skills may not be genetic, but they can definitely be passed down. Bad drivers are not going to be the best teachers for their children. All those little habits that make them dangerous on the road are what their kids will learn. On the other hand, good habits can also be passed on. Safe drivers can teach their kids all their good habits, and those lessons will stick with those new drivers for life.

Ultimately, we need more proof before we can be sure genetics are linked to bad driving. Driving skills may or may not be hereditary, but they can definitely be inherited.