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Can bad driving be diagnosed? Chinese doctor thinks risky and clumsy drivers should be barred

July 15, 2011|By Chris Woolston, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Dr. Jin Huiqing talks during an interview in a lab of Anhui Sanlian University in Hefei, in central China's Anhui province. In China, where someone is killed in traffic every five minutes, Jin has an unusual approach for making roads safer: Treat bad driving like a disease you can diagnose before the driver even gets near a car.
Dr. Jin Huiqing talks during an interview in a lab of Anhui Sanlian University… (Alexander F. Yuan / Associated…)

If bad driving is a disease, some people should be locked up in deep quarantine. Turn signal phobia, red light blindness, tailgate-itis, cellphone dementia -- today's roads are a hot zone of pathology.

So here's to Dr. Jin Huiqing, a physician in China who feels that bad driving should be treated like an illness--something that can be predicted, diagnosed and treated. It's no surprise that a Chinese doctor would be concerned about driving. I've been in Beijing traffic--imagine a bad jam in L.A., but with less regard for human life. And more bicycles. If someone discovers a drug that improves driving, it should go straight into the city's water supply.

I think Jin is on the right track. Studies have found that certain genes can encourage people to take financial risks, so it's not much of a stretch to suspect that some people are born with a willingness to fly through an uncontrolled intersection without a sideways glance. If he keeps giving drivers blood tests and neurological tests, he just might find a smoking gun. Or at least a flashing hazard signal.

It's already possible to spot potentially terrible drivers before they get behind the wheel. A study of 500 drivers published in 2000 zeroed in on the types of people who were especially likely to get into a crash. Young drivers were at that top of the list, no surprise. People who had high levels of hostility combined with low self-esteem (in other words, they're sort of jerks and they know it) were also crash-prone. I was most interested to see that people with stressful jobs get in more than their share of accidents. Take note, bosses: Deadlines kill.

Now all we need to do is find a cure. In my experience, honking at people is only marginally effective, and it often produces side effects in the other driver, most notably rigidity of the digitus medius. Jin feels that diseased drivers--including those who take too many risks or those who have slow reflexes--should either get special training or get off the road entirely.

That sounds about right to me. The police and the DMV can do only so much to keep the roads safe. Maybe it's time to bring in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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