Next time you get into a car accident and the investigators ask whose fault it was, you might want to consider answering, "It's in my genes."
That's according to new research suggesting individuals born with a certain genetic variant don't stay on the road as well as their counterparts.
So, might your genes one day spell disaster for your already sky-high car insurance premiums?
"I'd be curious to know the genetics of people who get into car crashes," lead researcher Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, told LiveScience.com. "I wonder if the accident rate is higher for drivers with the variant." You can bet Travelers and Progressive are interested as well, although neither company responded to requests for comment, nor did the American Insurance Association.
In May of 2008, President Bush signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, which was designed to prevent discrimination based on genetic information when it comes to health insurance and hiring.
But the bill says nothing about the other forms of insurance we rely upon regularly, such as personal property insurance or auto insurance.
The premise of the legislation — alleviating American's fears about genetic testing, and preventing discrimination — was spot on. Our genes can affect all aspects of our lives, not just the color of our eyes but also why we act as we do. Bush's Act doesn't prevent discrimination against genetically predetermined skills such as driving.
"GINA does send a strong signal that the US public isn't comfortable with the use of this sort of personal information in a business context, noted John Timmer, science editor for the popular technology and culture news site Ars Technica. That said, generating the Congressional will to act for each potential case, or a single, sufficiently broad bill to cover all potential future discoveries will be tough.
Suppose geneticists discover an "absent-minded" gene, which may make you more likely to, say, forget your iPod on the subway—or worse, misplace that expensive engagement ring. As a higher-risk client, should State Farm be allowed to charge you a higher premium? Don't laugh: In 2000, scientists determined that mutations on a gene they called nompC (for "no mechanoreceptor potential-C") led to uncoordinated fruit flies.
On the other hand, the very idea of drawing conclusions on health based on genetics may be ill founded, argues Timmer. "Any genetic tests are subject to enough caveats that their value in making rational decisions is extremely limited," he claims.
For starters, there's the three billion DNA bases in the human genome; "health care will be fundamentally different by the time we have anything approaching a complete grip on human genetic risk," he argues. And there's the accuracy of the tests to consider. And the potential for error.
But Timmer and the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act are worried about health insurance, and a potential future where a simple DNA test would analyze your blood for all potential defects. Testing for the presence of one specific gene is much easier, and much more concrete.
As genetic study grows more advanced, these questions will become more commonplace, though direct connections between genetic information and public policy may be inherently misguided. But that won't necessarily stop them from trying to ascertain genetic information, when it becomes affordable to do so. As Timmer points out, "there's no reason to think they won't want to know … or try to make it a requirement."