Silly study: Coffee helps you stay awake while driving

Jordan Chittley

When driving early in the morning or late at night or any time you are tired it's almost instinctive to grab for a coffee or another caffeinated drink. The logic is simple - staying awake makes you a safer driver.

In case you were wondering if this is just a myth, now a new study proves it to be true.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal looked at truck drivers who were hauling loads long distances across Australia between 2008 and 2011. It compared 530 drivers who had been involved in crashes with 517 who had not and found drivers who drank caffeinated substances had a 63 per cent lower crash risk.

"Long-distance commercial drivers who consume caffeinated substances such as coffee or energy drinks, to stay awake while driving, are significantly less likely to crash than those who do not, even though they drive longer distances and sleep less," researchers said.

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According to Independent Online, the researchers said taking caffeine "should be considered as an effective adjunct strategy" for staying alert while driving. They also urge the truckers to take breaks, get more sleep and get regular exercise to stay alert on the roads.

However, researchers and other scientists warn caffeine is only a short-term solution.

Professor Jennie Connor of the University of Otago has researched driver sleepiness and crashes in New Zealand and said people need more than a cup for it to be effective and it only lasts about 45 minutes. She told the Otago Daily Times driving while drowsy is similar to driving while drunk, but "to some extent reversible by caffeine for a short period of time. It will provide you with a little bit of extra alertness but it's not the answer because an hour later you're back in the same situation."

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Scientists say the best solution is more sleep. Of course, I, along with every other driver on the road, thank you for drinking that cup of coffee to stay awake, even if it only lasts a short time because that's more time you aren't falling asleep at the wheel.

More people may want to try this coffee trick. A national telephone survey conducted by the American Automobile Association in 2010 found 41 per cent of drivers admitted to falling asleep or nodding off at the wheel.

Maybe next week we'll get to see a report on how coffee helps people stay awake when they have to pull an all-nighter.

Silly Studies is an occasional feature that will take a closer look at an unusual, recently-released study or survey. It is not intended to mock real science.

(Reuters photo)