Consequences of simulated car driving at constant high speed on the sensorimotor control of leg muscles and the braking response

Research paper by Yves Jammes, Michel Behr, Jean P. Weber, Stephane Berdah

Indexed on: 07 Jul '16Published on: 01 Jun '16Published in: Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging


Due to the increase in time spent seated in cars, there is a risk of fatigue of the leg muscles which adjust the force exerted on the accelerator pedal. Any change in their sensorimotor control could lengthen the response to emergency braking. Fourteen healthy male subjects (mean age: 42 ± 4 years) were explored. Before and after a 1‐h driving trial at 120 km h−1, we measured the braking response, the maximal leg extension and foot inversion forces, the tonic vibratory response (TVR) in gastrocnemius medialis (GM) and tibialis anterior (TA) muscles to explore the myotatic reflex, and the Hoffmann reflex (H‐reflex). During driving, surface electromyograms (EMGs) of GM and TA were recorded and the ratio between high (H) and low (L) EMG energies allowed to evaluate the recruitment of high‐ and low‐frequency motor unit discharges. During driving, the H/L ratio decreased in TA, whereas modest and often no significant H/L changes occurred in GM muscle. After driving, the maximal foot inversion force decreased (−19%), while the leg extension force did not vary. Reduced TVR amplitude (−29%) was measured in TA, but no H‐reflex changes were noted. The braking reaction time was not modified after the driving trial. Driving at constant elevated speed reduced the myotatic reflex and the recruitment of motor units in TA muscle. The corresponding changes were rarely present in the GM muscle that plays a key role in the braking response, and this could explain the absence of a reduced braking reaction time.