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MEDICO Project

Description : Multi-Center Reference Axis on Drugs and Driving

Team / Agency : Institute of Movement Sciences (CNRS & the University of the Mediterranean)

Partners: The MEDICO project associated the Neuropharmacological Sleep and Drowsiness (CHU Pellegrin, Bordeaux) Study Group, the Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology (MEDES, Toulouse), CLLE-LTC laboratory (UMR 5263, University of Toulouse II) and the QUALISSIMA company (Marseille).

Principle Investigator : Daniel Mestre

Years : 2006 - 2010

Budget : 1400 k€

Context and Research Purpose

The MEDICO project's main objective was to research how to better assess the validity conditions of driving simulators (virtual reality environment) as predictors of safe highway driving (real world environment). For this purpose, the project was to develop a multi-center reference axis on the theme "driving, drugs and simulation" between basic research centers and university hospitals in Marseille, Toulouse (driving simulation) and Bordeaux (real world driving), to study the effects of psychoactive substances on the risks associated with driving. More precisely, the scientific objectives were, first, to contribute to a standardization of the means and methods used to understand the relationship between drugs and road safety. Secondly, it was to contribute to a process of scenario and simulation tool uniformity with an indispensible validation phase of the obtained results from real world driving simulation trials. Finally it would complete the current state of knowledge on predictive behavioral results obtained through simulation, with respect to the real world risks when driving on the road, particularly in the context of the use of psychoactive substances.


Two successive studies were conducted and consisted of clinical trials on healthy volunteers (within the scope of the Huriet Law and the European Directive on clinical trials). The first study focused on the behavioral effects of a single dose of benzodiazepine, the second on cannabis inhalation. The volunteers first drove under simulation conditions. They were divided up between the Toulouse and Marseille centers, which have simulators of different realism levels (simple cabin in Marseille, and complete vehicle in Toulouse). This allows for a comparison of results between two driving simulators. They next drove on a freeway section in Bordeaux, which for which a simulation model was created. This therefore allows for a "real-simulation" comparison. The studies were carried out by comparing the effects of a psychoactive substance with the effects of a placebo under double-blind conditions (neither the subject nor the researcher know what the subject ingested). Driving performance was measured during two hour driving sessions, as well as the effects of a distractive task (conversation while driving).


Main results

Overall, the effects of a psychoactive substance are qualitatively comparable between a simulation environment and a real-world driving environment. We have full results for the first study (benzodiazepine) and preliminary results for the second (cannabis). There is, however, a significant difference in the magnitude of effects, which are significantly higher under simulation conditions, in particular with regard to involuntary lane crossing. This difference suggests a necessary evolution for simulation protocols (scenarios, hardware and software).

The multi-center axis Marseille-Toulouse-Bordeaux has demonstrated its capability and needs to be put at the service of research data validation originating from simulation at the aid of real comparison. We have worked in the area of "alertness / drowsiness." It seems logical to evaluate the risk-taking problem, which seems, in light of recent data on the particular effects of cannabis, a relevant field to explore in the area of the effects of psychoactive substances on road safety.