Caffeine may Boost Truck Driver Safety

Truck accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a recent study published in BMJ that found that long-distance truck drivers who drink caffeinated stimulants on the road were less likely to have an accident than their peers who do not drink caffeine.

The study was conducted by researchers in Australia, who examined 530 long-distance commercial vehicle drivers who were recently involved in a crash and 517 commercial drivers who had not been involved in an accident in at least 12 months. Researchers adjusted for factors such as age, health conditions, sleep habits, and sleep disorders, along with driver exposure levels, such as miles driven, hours slept, breaks, and nighttime driving.

Commercial truck drivers are responsible for carrying large, sometimes extremely dangerous loads across long distances. In countries with expansive land mass, like the United States and Australia, drivers are often expected to travel cross-country on a set schedule, many times having to drive over-night. Between 2001 and 2003, there were an estimated 140,000 large truck crashes in the United States involving a fatality or injury. Large truck crashes are associated with significant and often devastating damage, both to property and loss of life, because of the massive size and weight of the vehicles and because trucks often carry hazardous materials.

Of course, alertness is critical when driving long distances, especially at night, to maintain a level of safety for the driver and those they’re sharing the road with. Many drivers use caffeine and other stimulants to stay alert while driving and numerous studies have shown that caffeine enhances alertness while performing monotonous tasks.

However, caffeine does not help if the driver is overly tired and sleep deprived. There is no alternative for sleep, and at such a point of fatigue, it is critical that drivers pull over and sleep for at least a little bit, to restore brain function. One recently study found that a combination of naps and caffeine significantly improved performance and alertness in night workers.

The Australian study was conducted between December 2008 and May 2011, as research interviewers performed 40 minute interviews to all participants. The questions regarded health behaviors, use of legal and illegal substances, driving schedules, and sleep habits, and the answers were all self-reported.

Researchers found that the consumption of caffeinated substances by these drivers significantly protected them against crashing. The study suggested that the consumption of legal stimulants may be of value in managing fatigue and reducing the susceptibility of crashing among long-distance commercial drivers. The study did not, however, record the timing of caffeine consumption or the precise amount consumed.

It is worth noting that caffeine is indeed a drug. Certain medications, such as Diflucan, Luvox, Mexitil, Tagamet, some estrogens, and certain antibiotics, including Cipro and Levaquin, obstruct the metabolism of caffeine, increasing its effects. Over-caffeinated drivers may experience anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness. Caffeine can also be toxic if combined with the prescribed antipsychotic medication Clozapine.

The improvement of fatigue management strategies is of high focus both for the government and industries in the United States. Recent regulations have imposed limits on the length of continuous driving, and encouraged the use of caffeine and napping during breaks. In the Australian study, however, only 70% of drivers reported stopping for a nap when tired.

In the U.S., the federal government is considering implementing electronic onboard recorders, or black boxes, in commercial trucks as a safety initiative. These devices track and record when a truck is being driven, who is driving it, the time, location, and distance of travel. Advocates say the black boxes will help keep unsafe drivers off the road, by preventing fatigued drivers from operating their vehicles. The devices could also help track information leading up to commercial truck accidents.

Black boxes like this could significantly impact the proceedings of lawsuits filed against commercial truck drivers after crashes. The information they provide could be vital in proving the driver was negligent and dangerous on the road. Truck accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this study to bring the dangers of long-distance commercial driving to the attention of American drivers. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in an accident caused by a driver of a large truck, you may be entitled to significant compensation through a lawsuit against the trucking company.

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