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Caffeine Significantly Reduces Truck Accidents: Too Many Drowsy Drivers?

Craig McClellan

Ah, the power of caffeine. It keeps us alert during the workday. It stops us from being grumpy when we get our kids ready for school in the morning. It may even prevent auto accidents.

An Australian study published in BMJ found that caffeine consumption reduced the risk of truck accidents by 63 percent. The study compared the habits of 530 drivers who had been involved in an accident in the last year with the habits of those who were accident-free. Evidently, caffeine can prevent accidents.

But should it?

It's great the coffee drinkers appear to be better drivers, but underlying this study is a drear picture about drowsy driving. If truck drivers who drink coffee are 63 percent less likely to be in a truck accident, and caffeine's main attribute is to reduce drowsiness, then it follows that drowsy driving causes a significant percentage of truck accidents.

Instead of forcing truck drivers to drink copious amounts of caffeine and endanger their health, perhaps more focus needs to be put on preventing driver fatigue in the first place. How can we ensure that drivers, both truck drivers and car drivers, get enough sleep? Are bus, truck, and other professional drivers able to drive eight hours straight (plus breaks) without getting drowsy? Is there a way to hold drowsy drivers accountable for their choice to continue driving?

These are all difficult questions to answer. Perhaps the first step is raising awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving, not that "you should drink coffee before driving at night," but that "you should consider your options before driving home drowsy." According to the NHTSA, there are more than 1,500 deaths every year from drowsy driving and more than one third of all drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel. Does it take an accident for us to wake up?