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Dyslexic drivers slow to react, claim boffins

Impairment equivalent to 'moderate drinking session'

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Dyslexic drivers are slower to react to traffic signs, a study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim has shown. The researchers report that dyslexia impairs a driver's reaction times "as much as a moderate drinking session", according to a New Scientist report.

Lead boffin Hermundur Sigmundsson subjected 17 volunteers - six of whom were dyslexic - to two distinct tests. The first simulation required guinea pigs to drive along a rural road at between 30 and 50 mph for four minutes; the second involved a 10-minute urban jaunt at lower speeds. Traffic signs were flashed up before the test subjects and scientists measured how quickly they responded by pressing a button marked "now".

The New Scientist notes: "The six dyslexic drivers took on average 0.13 seconds longer to react during the rural drive than the non-dyslexic controls and were 0.19 seconds slower in the city, where the simulated environment was more complex. In both tests the controls took around 0.6 seconds to respond, so the dyslexic drivers were experiencing a delay of 20 to 30%."

The researchers say that this result is in keeping with other probes which have shown that dyslexia "may affect the way the brain processes sensory information. For example, people with the condition were often clumsy as children, and passed childhood milestones such as crawling, walking and riding a bicycle later than other children."

However, no-one is sugesting that dyslexic drivers should be prevented from driving. Leeds University driving impairment expert, Oliver Carsten, said: "Rather than banning them, it would be better to warn them." In any case, a spokeswoman for the UK's Department for Transport noted that being quick out of the blocks in the reaction department does not necessarily a good driver make: "Reaction time is only one of the cognitive functions needed for driving, and it has not been consistently shown to be a good predictor of driving performance. Young drivers have shorter reaction times but they have more accidents because they are overconfident," she cautioned.

Or, possibly, because they are chatting away on a mobile phone, as we recently reported. A not entirely convincing study by the University of Utah recently claimed that a 20-year-old driver on a mobe had the reaction times of a 70-year-old, leading us to conclude that a 70-year-old likewise yakking into a mobe had the reaction times of a 120-year-old. Reg readers comments on this claim can be found here. ®

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