Some Incredible Stuff Happens in Your Brain While You Drive

Your daily commute is doing WAY more for you than you realized.
Written by Jim Belt in Cars

Turns out driving does a lot more than just get you from A to B.

New research shows all those hours behind the wheel are actually benefiting your brain and body in surprising ways.

Who knew cruising in your ride could:
- Keep your mind sharp and memories strong
- Boost problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination
- Help manage stress, anxiety, and even depression

Let's get into all the incredible things that happen upstairs while you're hitting the road. Your daily commute is doing WAY more for you than you realized!

11. Driving May Help Manage Depression and Trauma

The side-to-side eye movements that occur when driving and scanning the road could potentially provide benefits similar to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. Research indicates that horizontal eye movements can help process traumatic memories and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The rhythmic eye motions involved in driving may produce a desensitizing effect, improving emotional regulation and mental wellbeing.

10. Driving Boosts Your Visual Attention

When you drive, your brain has to constantly process visual information from your surroundings. This strengthens the neural pathways involved in visual attention and concentration. A study found that experienced drivers exhibit increased activity in brain regions associated with visuo-spatial processing compared to non-drivers.

9. It Improves Your Multitasking Abilities

Driving requires you to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously - steering, monitoring your speed, checking mirrors, and being aware of other vehicles. This cognitive demand enhances your brain's ability to multitask effectively. Research suggests that experienced drivers develop greater cognitive flexibility and task-switching capabilities.

8. Driving Keeps Your Brain Young

The mental stimulation involved in driving can help preserve cognitive function as you age. A study found that older adults who continued to drive scored higher on tests of visual attention, working memory, and reaction time compared to non-drivers.

7. It Boosts Your Spatial Awareness

Navigating through traffic and judging distances between vehicles requires strong spatial awareness abilities. Driving regularly can enhance the brain regions involved in spatial perception and mental mapping. Research shows that London taxi drivers, who navigate the city's complex streets, have larger hippocampi (the brain's navigation center) than non-drivers.

6. Driving Reduces Stress and Anxiety

For many car enthusiasts, driving can be a therapeutic and stress-relieving activity. The act of focusing on the road and enjoying the driving experience can help you enter a state of mindfulness, reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. A study found that commuters who drove themselves to work reported lower stress levels than those who took public transport.

5. It Improves Your Risk Assessment Skills

Driving involves constantly assessing potential risks and making split-second decisions. This exercise in risk evaluation can enhance your brain's ability to anticipate and mitigate risks in other areas of life. Research suggests that experienced drivers develop improved risk perception and decision-making abilities compared to novice drivers.

4. Driving Boosts Your Hand-Eye Coordination

Operating a vehicle requires precise coordination between your visual input and your physical actions (steering, shifting gears, etc.). This hand-eye coordination exercise can improve your motor skills and reaction times. A study found that experienced drivers exhibited better visuomotor integration than non-drivers.

3. It Enhances Your Peripheral Vision

Driving requires you to constantly monitor your surroundings, not just what's directly in front of you. This exercise can improve your peripheral vision and ability to process visual information from your side views. Research suggests that experienced drivers have better peripheral vision and can detect hazards more quickly than novice drivers.

2. Driving Improves Your Memory and Navigation Skills

Remembering routes, street names, and landmarks requires spatial memory and navigation abilities. Regular driving can enhance these cognitive functions, as well as your overall memory performance. A study found that experienced drivers had better spatial memory and navigation skills than non-drivers.

1. It Boosts Your Problem-Solving Abilities

Driving often presents unexpected challenges and obstacles, such as traffic jams, construction zones, or inclement weather. Navigating these situations requires creative problem-solving skills, which can transfer to other areas of your life. Research suggests that experienced drivers exhibit enhanced problem-solving abilities compared to non-drivers.