Caffeinated Truck Drivers Make For Safer Highways
March 20, 2013

Caffeine-Guzzling Truckers Make Safer Drivers

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While the jury is still out on the long-term health impacts of coffee, truck drivers who use caffeine to stay awake on long drives are less likely to crash their vehicle, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal.

Study participants who used coffee, tea or other caffeine sources to stay awake reduced their risk of getting into an accident“¯by over 60 percent, the study found.

"This may seem effective in enhancing their alertness, but it should be considered carefully in the context of a safe and healthy fatigue management strategy; energy drinks and coffee certainly don't replace the need for sleep,” cautioned the report´s lead author Lisa Sharwood, from the George Institute in Australia and University of Sydney.

The Australian research team focused the new study on case studies of 530 Australian long-distance commercial drivers who had reported having a crash between December 2008 and May 2011.

As a control group, the researchers also looked at a group of about 520 drivers who were not involved in accidents over the same time period. These drivers tended to be slightly older and more experienced than the other group.

In the study, all of the drivers were surveyed about their driving experience, sleeping patterns, health condition and age, among other things. Data from the participants´ responses were then adjusted to eliminate any factors that might have skewed the results.

The drivers were asked about their caffeine intake as well as if they used any illegal substances such as cocaine or amphetamines to stay awake. Forty-three percent of drivers said they had used caffeine to stay awake, while about 3 percent said that they had used illegal substances.

Around one-third of the case study drivers said they did not stop for a nap when they felt tired. The researchers added that napping is not necessarily the best strategy for combating driver sleepiness.

"While it is clear that taking breaks is a vital fatigue management strategy for long distance drivers, it is possible that the different activities undertaken during a break would contribute differently to a driver´s fatigue or alertness level," the authors wrote in their report.

"The varying extent to which activities such as taking a nap, drinking a cup of coffee, or going for a short walk contribute to subsequent vigilance behind the wheel are not well understood and are therefore recommended for further study,” they noted.

In their conclusion, the researcher also said that they did not factor in the time, frequency and quantity of caffeine consumption among the participants. They also did not ask whether the drivers had other reasons for consuming caffeine.

Caffeine consumption has become a hot topic in recent years, and the release of the study´s findings comes just as makers of so-called energy drinks take steps to position their products differently in the marketplace. The maker of the Monster energy drink announced this week that it will market the product as a beverage and not as a dietary supplement. Some say the move is to reduce scrutiny from the FDA.