How The Brain Functions When Behind The Wheel

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Whether travelling, commuting to work, or just running errands, many people spend a considerable amount of their lives in their cars. The inherent danger on the road is high because many people’s personalities change once the key is in the ignition. In this first episode of a series on brain function and driving, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss how the brain factors in to the experience of driving an automobile.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to a new week of Brain Warrior's Way Podcasts. This week, we're going to be in the car with you. We are going talk about-
Tana Amen: Hopefully, [crosstalk 00:01:01]
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... driving and the brain, because it is actually one of the most common causes of stress,-
Tana Amen: For sure.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... of trauma, and of things that damage your brain. What triggered this for us is our almost 16-year-old daughter got her permit this week.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So before I ask you about your conversation with her, I want you to ask yourself at home, what about cars or transportation has been good for your brain or bad for it? Too often, the people I see, including one of our first conversations about your brain, is cars were bad for your brain.
Tana Amen: Right, there's a lot of people have trauma around driving.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We're going to talk about the brains of drivers. We're going to talk about things you can do while driving to keep yourself safer, and some very funny stories coming up in this week's podcast, Your Brain on Driving.
You had a conversation with the youngster, who by the way was on this podcast, and we got great comments-
Tana Amen: Oh, I'm so glad.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... about her. Not so good about us, but great about her.
Tana Amen: That's funny. Yeah, she's a pretty special kid. It's interesting. We drive up in L.A. a lot. Those of you who drive in Los Angeles, I understand. It takes a lot. Just to go to a zen place, it's the one time that my personality just ... I just get really tense, we'll leave it at that, driving in my car.
But we were talking about it, and I was trying to point out to her just how often and how closely you have to pay attention, because we've seen so many accidents. We drive up there so often, and you know, it's a long drive. It can be two hours to get up there. We've seen these accidents happen right in front of us and how quickly they can happen.
So as we were going to DMV, she and I were talking, and she's been nervous. She could've gotten her permit almost six months ago, but she's been too nervous to do it, and she just wasn't in a hurry. We were having this conversation. I said, "You have to think about the fact that people get in the car every day, and they just trust that everyone is going to do what they're supposed to do. They just trust that all the brains they are getting on freeway with, or getting on the road with, are healthy." They're not thinking about the fact that the brains they are getting on the road with have PMS, menopause, they're sleep-deprived, they've got PTSD, ADD, all these slough of ... Or they're intoxicated.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, no. Let's keep going. I apologize if you're in the car listening to this. It's horrifying,-
Tana Amen: It's horrifying.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... because there are brains with head trauma, there are brains with ADD, there are brains with early dementia. And what horrified me when you and I talked about this, there are brains on the road with late dementia. The reason there are dementia brains on the road, cellphones. Because it used to be when I first started, a common call to my practice is, "My mother couldn't find her way home, and I had to go find her in a parking lot somewhere, and she's crying her eyes out, because now she recognizes something's wrong."
But now, the phone will take you home. So people are actually being diagnosed years later with dementia, because of cellphones.
Tana Amen: That was the point I was making to her, is don't assume. Just always be ready, always be watching. You can't relax for a second. One of the reasons, you know, you'll see people on their cellphones reading texts and things, and they'll say, "But there's no one in front of me." You don't know what can happen in just a split second. We see it happen so often. So I was just trying to explain to her.
And if you're one of those people on the road, one thing you have think about, too, when these things happen, when someone cuts you off, you might be a good driver, you might be a defensive driver, but all of a sudden, you can get pretty angry. It brings out another side of your personality. So now you've got an angry driver, because someone cut them off. It's just all these different dynamics that happen on the freeway.
If you've got new young drivers, they're about to drive, or some of you have people who have not been able to drive. Maybe they had a DUI and lost their license, and they're about to start driving again, and it's time to learn from their mistakes.
So we just thought this would be a good topic.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So I have a patient who was an orthopedic surgeon up in San Francisco. By accident, a 25-year-old kid cut him off on the freeway. But this was one of those surgeons who would throw things in the operating suite.
Tana Amen: I know the type.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When the kid cut him off, he started to chase him. He actually chased him eight miles west on Interstate 80 outside of Berkeley. The kid got really upset and anxious and tried to pull off the freeway. This doctor, in his big BMW, cornered him on the off-ramp. You know how orthopedic surgeons sometimes will put these long metal rods in your femur-
Tana Amen: Oh, my God.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... if you break your leg. Well, he took the metal rod and bashed in the kid's windshield. But what he didn't know, is as he was chasing this ADD kid, a highway patrol officer was chasing him. He was arrested-
Tana Amen: Good.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... at the scene. And yes, there is the judgment.
Tana Amen: Yes, good. If that was my kid-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I am married to the judge, the jury, and the executioner. So he calls from jail, he calls Amen Clinics from jail, which is not uncommon for us, and he says, "I think I need to see you guys right away." My assistant came in, and she was chuckling. She said, "He said 'right away.' I think that's a good idea, don't you?" When we scanned him, he had two things going on in his brain. So you never know about the brains of the drivers coming toward you.
He had the cingulet from hell. What that means, the cingulets in the middle front part of your brain, I think of it as the brain's gear shifter. It lets you go from thought to thought, move from idea to idea, be flexible, go with the flow, and his was way overactive. Which what you see for people whose cingulets work too hard, is they're worried, they're rigid, they're inflexible, they hate surprises. If things don't go a certain way, they can't stand it. They can often explode. We often see it in autistic kids, in OCD. For this guy, it was sort of an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
And he had trouble in his left temporal lobe. Left temporal lobe, as we've talked about a lot on our show, is often associated with mood instability, irritability, dark thoughts, sometimes violent thoughts. So if you just think about, what are the dynamics of going on in his brain, is he gets surprised by the kid cutting him off, and it's a dangerous situation. He gets surprised. He can't let it go. Then he acts out in a way. What's interesting is the reason I saw him, is I was seeing his sister,-
Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... who had problems with stalking.
Tana Amen: Right. That's crazy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Those kinds of things run in families.
Tana Amen: So let me throw something else out there. Let's just say the person he was chasing had the same kind of brain and maybe had a weapon in the car. So let's just throw that out there.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, when these things happen and freeway shootings, school shootings-
Tana Amen: You don't know how you're chasing, so be careful.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You don't know. Everybody, when somebody cuts them off on the freeway, you might think to yourself, "You jerk."
Tana Amen: Right, but let it go.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But then, for me, because people cut me off, I'll often say to myself, "Oh, you jerk," but then I'll leave it alone. Because there are seriously crazy people out there, and why would I engage with them? And people's personality changes-
Tana Amen: Change.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... when they turn the key in the ignition-
Tana Amen: It's so true.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... or push the button.
Tana Amen: Their personalities also change under stress. There are some people, that flight-or-fight thing kicks in. That happened with us one time. You say I gave you PTSD, but it's because we were attacked. But when I'm attacked, like I went crazy, and you tend to get thoughtful and quiet. That's not me. So you think I gave you PTSD. Your personality changes under stress.
Dr. Daniel Amen: They don't what happened. Now, we have talked about it, but we were walking on Corona Del Mar Beach on the jetty. It was nighttime. We have this big white, fluffy German Shepherd, who's beautiful, and all of a sudden, two pit bulls dart off their-
Tana Amen: They were fighting dogs.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... leashes, fighting dogs, and attacked Aslan.
Tana Amen: They had very much a gangbanger type of owner, who was [inaudible 00:11:13] scary-looking dude. But when I get scared, I freak. I mean, I go to this crazy-
Dr. Daniel Amen: So we have a gangbanger, scary-looking dude, who all of a sudden,-
Tana Amen: And a scary mom.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you start screaming at him.
Tana Amen: But that freaked you out. So my point is, now replace that with ... those of you listening and driving, those of you listening and you're thinking about driving, think about your personality if someone challenges you, right? You could be the nicest person. You're successful. The surgeon, he's successful. But under stress, people's personality change, right? Mothers, someone threatens your child. Someone like that surgeon, you feel threatened, you've got a baby in the car, you're likely to react in a way you wouldn't normally react. So now you've got a big problem.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When we come back, we're going to begin to give you some strategies on what to do when you get frustrated in your car. If you learned anything from this podcast, post it any of your social media sites, [#BrainWarriorsWayPodcast 00:12:16], and you can submit questions. At the end of this week, we're going to answer questions. Go to Leave a review, please. Then leave a question, and if we choose your question, we'll send you a signed book.
Tana Amen: Also, if you leave us a review on iTunes, we are giving away a copy of The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook. So we are giving away a book. To get that book, you can go to iTunes, leave us a review. Go to our website, ask us a question. Leave a question, because we're answering questions. Make sure you go to, and there are instructions. You can leave questions there.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with us.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe, so you'll always know when there's a new episode. And while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or a five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code Podcast 10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at, or a 10% discount on all supplements at For more information, give us a call at (855)978-1363.