Could traumatic brain injuries contribute to issues with road rage later in life? That is the implication of a new study published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.
According to the study, adult drivers from Ontario who reported experiencing at least one TBI in their lifetime also report significantly higher incidents of serious road-related driving aggression, which includes making threats to hurt a fellow driver, passenger, or vehicle.
This group of individuals also reported a much greater likelihood of being involved in a motor vehicle collision that resulted in injury to themselves, their passenger, or their vehicle.
“We know already that driver aggression and risk of driving collision are affected by psychiatric factors and substance use, and that this connection is strong, and we know that mental health and substance can be, both, antecedents and consequences of brain injury,” said Dr. Gabriela Ilie, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital. “Through this study, we wanted to examine if a link between traumatic brain injuries and road-related aggression and driving collisions also exists.” A traumatic brain injury was defined as trauma to the head that resulted in loss of consciousness for at least five minutes or overnight hospitalization. TBI occurs when a sudden hit or blow to the head, or when an object piercing the skull and entering brain tissue, causes trauma and damages the brain. Concussions are a subset of more mild or moderate forms of TBI.
“These data suggest links between TBI and hazardous driving behaviours, but at this early stage we can’t be sure if these relationships are causal,” said Dr. Robert Mann, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and co-principal investigator of the study. “Nevertheless, it appears that a large proportion of the driving population has experienced these injuries, so understanding how trauma to the head affects driving could have important implications for improving traffic safety.”
For the study, the researchers used data from phone surveys of nearly 4,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 97 in 2011 and 2012, as part of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s ongoing survey of adult mental health and substance abuse in Canada.
The findings highlight the value of brain injury prevention, and screening and rehabilitation services for drivers who have experienced TBI, according to the study authors.
“Perhaps the burden of traffic collisions and road rage could be mitigated if we were mindful of the implications associated with a brain injury,” she suggested.