Canadian researchers have shown for the first time that making left-hand turns at busy intersections — where the worst real-world crashes occur — requires far more brain power than right turns or other manoeuvres.

Throw in talking on a hands-free cellphone, and the brain becomes so distracted, it shuts down key areas needed for visual attention and alertness.

For their study, Toronto researchers slid volunteers into functional MRI machines, or fMRIs — scanners that capture the brain at work in real time by measuring changes in blood flow. The machines show how certain areas of the brain are activated, or “light up” under different levels of mental demand.

The team, in a feat of engineering that took more than a year and a half, fitted an fMRI with a virtual-reality driving simulator complete with a fully functional steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedals.

The study was inspired by neurological patients…

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