What does the thalamus do while driving?

I sometimes get home from a trip to the store or the mall and feel like the entire drive was done on autopilot. Other times, I feel like if I’m not devoting 100% of my attention to the road, I’ll end up in an accident. What exactly is my brain doing while I’m driving?

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Answer provided by
Ethan Daniel Moser
Answered on Apr 15, 2022
We can definitely relate to sometimes feeling like we are operating on autopilot behind the wheel, though it’s important to stay alert at all times as road conditions are constantly changing. Your brain is constantly firing off neurological signals to keep you safe behind the wheel, and the thalamus, in particular, helps you react to sight, taste, touch, and sound while behind the wheel by directing messages to the sensory cortex and transmitting replies to the cerebellum and medulla.
Here are some ways your thalamus helps keep you safe while driving:
  • If a child or animal suddenly runs out into the street in front of you, your thalamus triggers a neurological message to make you slam on the brakes
  • While reversing, the thalamus allows the brain and body to make the necessary adjustments to our posture and vehicle to avoid a collision, particularly while backing out
  • The thalamus offers drivers immediate reactions to unexpected obstacles on the road like ice, standing water, oncoming emergency vehicles, and debris
While the thalamus is a great tool for keeping all of us safe while driving, it’s certainly not foolproof, so having reliable car insurance is just as necessary.
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