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Caffeine cuts long-distance crash risk

Wednesday March 20th, 2013

Coffee and other caffeinated substances can cut long distance drivers' risk of crashing, researchers report today.

People who work as long distance commercial drivers regularly experience monotonous, sedentary drives, as well as frequent night-time driving, and often report drowsiness.

But "alertness is critical to safety for the driver and other road users," say Lisa Sharwood of the University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues in today's (20 March) British Medical Journal.

The findings help to confirm common road safety advice that a cup of coffee can help combat driving tiredness.

Her team investigated the link between use of substances containing caffeine and the risk of a crash. They recruited 530 long distance drivers of commercial vehicles who were recently involved in a crash, and compared their caffeine use against 517 drivers who had not had a recent crash.

Overall, 43% of the drivers said they used substances containing caffeine such as tea, coffee, caffeine tablets, or energy drinks for the express purpose of staying awake. In addition, 3% said they took illegal stimulants such as amphetamine.

Once age, health, sleep, distance driven and breaks were taken into account, the drivers who used caffeine to stay alert had a 63% reduced risk of crashing.

The authors explain that caffeine is a psychostimulant that suppresses the urge to sleep and increases mental arousal. It is one of the most commonly used stimulants worldwide, and has been found to increase alertness in shift workers as well as boosting performance on tasks. But it can also decrease sleep quantity and quality of sleep, and create caffeine withdrawal with habitual use.

The experts conclude: "Caffeinated substances are associated with a reduced risk of crashing for long distance commercial motor vehicle drivers."

They point out that "comprehensive mandated strategies for fatigue management" are necessary, but meanwhile the use of caffeinated substances "could be a useful adjunct strategy".

Sharwood, L. N. et al. Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles: case-control study. BMJ 20 March 2013 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f1140

Tags: A&E | Australia | Diet & Food | General Health

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