Researchers set out to determine whether or not there is an “association between the use of substances that contain caffeine and the risk of crash in long distance commercial drivers.
The case control study conducted in New South Wales and Western Australia included 530 long distance commercial drivers who had recently been involved in a police investigated crash. The study also looked at 517 drivers who had not had a crash in the past year while operating commercial vehicles.
The study made adjustments for factors including age, health disorders, sleep patterns and symptoms of sleep disorders. The study also factored in the distance driven, the hours that drivers slept, the number of breaks they took and their nighttime driving schedules.
The study found that 43 percent of drivers reported consuming caffeinated substances like tea, coffee, caffeine tablets or energy drinks for the sole purpose of staying awake. 3 percent reported using illegal stimulants like amphetamine (speed). 3.4 percent admitted using ecstasy and cocaine.
After researchers made adjustments for the illicit substance users, they found that drivers who used caffeine to stay awake or alert had a 63 percent reduced likelihood of crashing compared to those who hadn’t taken any substances to stay alert or awake on long distance trips.
The results suggests that in addition to the many proposed and available strategies for staying awake and alert, caffeine could be a useful “adjunct strategy.” Caffeine is a “psycho stimulant” that suppresses the innate adenosine mediated drive to sleep.” Caffeine is also one of the most widely consumed stimulants in the world.
Researchers began the study in December 2008 and concluded in May 2011. In excess, however, caffeine can affect the quantity and quality of sleep.
While caffeine is a proven stimulant known to increase alertness, critics of the study maintain that caffeine combined with breaks, sleep or naps are better strategies to reduce crash and increase driver alertness.
Caffeine, when used in excess, disrupts the quality and quantity of one’s sleep. Still, researchers maintain that in all of their studies, drivers who consumed caffeine to help stay awake were less likely to crash than drivers who did not.
For more on the study click here, the British Medical Journal.