The motor car is not only killing the planet and emptying our wallets. New research has found that it’s making us stupid as well.
People who spend two or more hours a day on the road are suffering cognitive decline. And it’s middle-aged drivers who are most at risk.
These are the results of a five-year study by the University of Leicester, involving half a million Britons aged between 37 and 73. The participants kept records of their time spent on the road, and were subjected to memory and intelligence tests.
Almost 20 per cent of the test subjects were driving two to three hours a day – their cognitive abilities were found to be lower on average at the start of the study, and declined at a faster rate than people who did little driving, or none at all.
Lead author of the study, Kishan Bakrania, a medical epidemiologist and doctoral researcher into diabetes and sedentary behaviour, reportedly said that the cognitive decline he found in driving enthusiasts to be similar to that found in smokers and in people with a poor diet.
He also noted that driving for hours causes stress and fatigue, also brokers of lost smarts.
How might Australia perform if it took Mr Bakrania’s test? We like to think we’re smarter than the Brits – at the very least!
We can make a reasonable guess.
Last year, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed that nine out of 10 Australians spent more than 90 minutes a day commuting, be it by car or train.
Mr Shorten was trying to highlight the perilous lag in infrastructure spending – and probably wasn’t trying to defame Australia as a nation of dimwits. (If he was, it was perhaps only to highlight class warfare.)
The RMIT/ABC Fact Check went through a tedious but thorough analysis of various surveys to prove Mr Shorten wrong.
What they found instead was that two out 10 Australians – or 20 per cent – were taking more than 90 minutes a day to get to work. This sort of suggests we’re on parity with the Brits.
But hang on. Not all of those commuters were driving cars, which makes us less dumb. Only a little less: a 2014 study found that two out of three commuters get to work by car. Last year, the driving commute had reportedly grown to 80 per cent.
A survey by a roads research group, found that commuters are increasingly abandoning public transport and battling traffic – because the crowded and unreliable trains are driving them mad.
And let’s face it – we’d all rather be stupid than insane.
But cars aren’t satisfied with turning us into idiots, they’re also causing us to pile on the pork.
Last year, the Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Health and Ageing published a study that found sitting in traffic is playing havoc with our waistline, BMI, blood glucose levels and cardio-metabolic risk.
All of these are very big words: probably too big for thickheads.