How Coffee Makes Driving Less Dangerous

Drivers who drink coffee to stay awake are more than twice as likely to avoid traffic accidents than caffeine abstainers, a new Australian study has found. The dangers of driving with one hand while slurping down a latte were not mentioned, however.

Coffee picture from Shutterstock

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the George Institute for Global Health carried out a study of long distance commercial vehicle drivers between 2008 and 2011 in a bid to investigate the effects of caffeine on the likelihood of a crash. The study compared 530 drivers who crashed their vehicles with 517 drivers who had not had a crash in the previous 12 months.

Drivers were asked to specify what (if any) caffeine substances they consumed for the purpose of staying awake while they were driving. Other contributing factors including age, sleep patterns, symptoms of sleep apnoea, kilometres driven, breaks taken, and night driving schedules were also taken into account.

The researchers found that drivers who consumed caffeine to help them stay awake were 63 per cent less likely to crash than drivers who did not take caffeinated substances. The majority of drivers who had not experienced a crash reported taking tea, coffee, caffeine tablets or energy drinks for the express purpose of staying awake. (3 per cent of drivers also admitted to using illegal stimulants such as amphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine.)

Consumption of caffeinated drinks can reduce the risk of crashing among long distance commercial motor vehicle drivers by 63% compared with drivers who do not report taking caffeinated stimulants for the purpose of staying awake while driving.

The study concludes that the consumption of caffeinated beverages is useful for improving alertness for a short time. However, the report also stresses that drivers shouldn’t rely on caffeine as a substitute for sleep.

“Caffeine may seem effective in enhancing 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,” notes lead researcher Lisa Sharwood.

Apart from caffeine, what are your fail-safe methods for staying alert and awake at the wheel? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case-control study [BMJ Journal]

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