Toronto, ONTARIO: Scientists in Ontario this morning shared ground-breaking research into the phenomenon of poor driving in winter conditions. At the world-famous Toronto Association for Research in Driving, a five year, government-funded study on the relationship between snow and bad motoring revealed some surprising results.
Researchers have found that snowstorms affect the basal ganglia, an area of the brain related to procedural memories, such as following recipes or the steps to be taken to avoid careening into a drainage ditch while driving. The basal ganglia is also responsible for such important functions as not poking yourself in the eye with a salad fork and drool containment.
“It appears that high concentrations of white in the visual field short-circuits the basal ganglia,” explained Dr. Fraust, the association’s chief researcher. “It explains so much of what happens on the highways each winter. What we’re experiencing is not simply the collective result of idiots being allowed to drive in poor conditions. Rather, it’s a legitimate medical condition over which the drivers have no control. And unfortunately, the wide-eyed individuals in the American Midwest are particularly vulnerable to being affected by the ‘white overload.’”
In order to test their theories, scientists conducted a study on laboratory mice. They sent the mice to a rigorous six-week driving course, then put them behind the wheel of 1:16 scale toy race cars once they passed a written driver’s exam. They were then subjected to a lab-created snowstorm. Shortly after the storm began, the mice begin driving erratically. Half of the subjects drove at high rates of speed,while the other half slowed to a crawl. The younger mice began doing donuts. Cell phone use skyrocketed as the mice called in late to work.
In fact, only one mouse seemed immune to the effects. “Stuart is a bit of an anomaly,” Dr. Fraust admitted. “He even brought his own helmet and driving goggles to the study.”
When asked for the real-world implications of this research, Dr. Fraust seemed less certain. “As a scientist, I am not well-equipped to answer questions about the real world. However, the implication of our research is that the visual stimulus from the snow must be reduced to improve driving skills. The most obvious suggestion is for drivers to eliminate the ‘white overload.’ It may be that most drivers will actually drive better with their eyes closed.”
In response, the head of the US Department of Transportation urged lawmakers to pass legislation requiring closed-eye driving. “We have already legislated our way to safer highways. We withheld highway funds until states raised the legal drinking age, and look how that reduced alcohol-related deaths. Many states have outlawed driving while talking on cell phones, and drivers no longer talk and drive. If we do not mandate closed-eye driving in winter, our highways will be littered with wreckage and defunct ganglia.”
Until legislation is passed to make the roads safer, scientists recommend driving at a moderate rate of speed, avoiding distracting activities while driving, and allowing extra time to reach your destination.