Coffee and Truck Driver Safety

As almost any person who has ever taken a long trip by car or faces a long daily commute knows, it is sometimes difficult to stay alert while driving. After hours on the highway, scenery begins to blend together and the sounds of the road can lull a driver to sleep. Unfortunately, long haul commercial truck drivers are not immune from this sort of fatigue, a problem exacerbated by tight delivery schedules and demanding trucking companies.

Caffeine key in fighting fatigue

Though it may seem like an overly simple solution, a recent study out of Australia indicates that caffeine may be a key in helping to prevent truck accidents caused by trucker fatigue. The study, published recently in theBritish Medical Journal, involved 530 long haul truck drivers who had recently been in a crash. The control group was made up of 517 truck drivers who had not been in an accident involving a commercial vehicle for at least 12 months.

After adjusting for a variety of factors, including age, sleep patterns, general health and differences in driving schedules, researchers collected information about each driver’s caffeine intake. Approximately 43 percent of drivers surveyed reported ingesting something with caffeine to stay awake. Most consumed coffee or tea, but some used caffeine pills or energy drinks. Researchers discovered that truck drivers who used caffeine, whatever the form, to stay awake had a 63 percent lower chance of being involved in an accident than drivers who did not use caffeine.

The authors of the study were quick to point out that their findings are somewhat limited. For example, they polled drivers in the study regarding daily caffeine intake, but did not ask specific questions about the timing of each driver’s intake, the amount they consumed or whether they consumed caffeine for reasons other than staying awake.

The Australian study demonstrates a clear correlation between caffeine use and the reduced risk of accidents caused by fatigue. The findings of future studies examining both the timing and amount of caffeine consumption may prove beneficial in the development of comprehensive fatigue management strategies for commercial truck drivers. New data might provide the evidence that authorities need to recommend that drivers drink a cup of coffee at a particular time of day, for example, and take regular breaks after a certain number of hours behind the wheel. Developing these sorts of plans is essential to keeping everyone on the highway safe.