Cognitive Skills Relate to Safer Driving

The Cognitive Brain

Cognitive skills are used to safely operate a motor vehicle because they are directly related to a driver’s ability to make informed decisions. Our brains use cognitive skills to think, learn, read, remember, reason and focus. Effectively processing new information and retaining previous knowledge allows one to plan ahead and foresee potential problems before they happen. Cognitive ability can become impaired, either temporarily or permanently. A cognitive impairment means that one or several skills which are important for driving are weakened or compromised in some way.  A weakening of cognitive skills can be caused by many things including age, inexperience, substance abuse, or the unfortunate result of a traumatic injury to the brain.  A driver’s inability to accurately estimate distances, speeds and or time perception can be a result.  Furthermore, impairments in cognitive ability can have a negative impact on

Cognitive Disabilities and Driving

The CDC estimates that somewhere around 16 million people in the United States are living with a cognitive disabilities. Cognitive disabilities can be shared genetically at birth. Medical experts claim that attention skills are considered a foundation “building block” of higher level thinking skills such as reasoning and memory. If this is the case, then people with attention or concentration problems may also show signs of other cognitive problems as well. On the other hand, cognitive issues can be acquired at any point in a person’s lifetime, and from a variety of ways.

Here are some other examples of how the cognitive skill set can be impacted over a lifetime:

  • A catastrophic event where the head has been shaken, or a serious car accident can cause brain injuries that impact cognitive function. Changes in cognitive abilities can be temporary, or permanent depending upon the severity of the brain injury that has occured. Drivers who have experienced a severe traumatic brain injury, (TBI), can suffer from cognitive disabilities including memory loss. They may also struggle with a variety of higher level mental skills that are required for safe driving.
  • Drug and alcohol use impacts the cognitive brain; substance abuse is the only voluntary action responsible for cognitive disabilities. Driving while intoxicated or under the influence of a substance such as drugs or alcohol at least temporarily impact a driver’s cognitive ability.  Alcohol or other substances impair judgement, reaction time, and many other cognitive driving skills. It is true that cognitive disorders can fade after drug or alcohol use, yet other times there are effects that remain long after the substances have left one’s system.
  • Medical issues can cause cognitive disabilities. Certain bacteria, viruses and diseases that lead to things like meningitis, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s, and AIDS are just a handful of medical diagnoses that can lead to cognitive dysfunction. Toxic chemicals or poor nutrition can also cause cognitive dysfunction.
  • Although driving is more about ability than age, the age of our brain does impact cognitive ability.
    • Parts of the cognitive brain are not fully developed by sixteen, which is the typical age for getting a driver’s license. This is at least partially responsible for the fact that teens are at a higher risk for accidents than other drivers. Teens may do well while under their driving permits, or while testing.  However, their maturity, responsibility & cognitive ability play a role in risky behavior that leads to accidents later.
    • Later in life, typically after 70 years of age, cognitive skills that were once strong start to decline very quickly. Cognitive impairment and other diseases such as dementia impair the older adults’ ability to drive an automobile safely. There is no method of assessing the old age correlation in relation to driving. However, with the population of U.S. citizens aging, it’s important to watch for signs of failing cognitive skills. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can be contacted to assess and make recommendations for aging drivers.

Cognitive Function & Distracted Driving

As a population, there is already an issue with distracted driving.  Although all cognitive skills are necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle, drivers often attempt to drive while distracted. While the cognitive brain is distracted by phones, radios, passengers, or any other distraction, it takes that part of the mind off of driving. It is literally impossible to perform multiple tasks perfectly, all at once. For those who are challenged with cognitive disability for any reason, it’s going to be even more important to remove distractions and place full attention on the task of driving.  Action Law Offices educating Wisconsin about risks associated with distracted driving.

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DISCLAIMER: Blogs and articles cover very basic accident and injury topics for education and awareness such as statistics, Wisconsin Laws, injury areas, compensation and injury victim rights. Information not intended for legal advice; consult with an attorney directly.