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New study confirms that caffeine can reduce truck accident risks

Last week, we wrote about the controversial changes to the trucking industry's hours-of-service rules that are set to go into effect this summer. While many professional truck drivers oppose changes that mandate more rest breaks and put limits on consecutive driving hours, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recognizes that the HOS rules need to be changed in order to better prevent truck driver fatigue and related truck accidents.

Drowsy driving is a leading cause of truck accidents, both here in Chicago and around the country. That's why truck drivers need to use a variety of tools, including sleep, to stay awake and alert behind the wheel.

The results of a recent study confirm the benefits of one of nature's oldest remedies: caffeine. Australian researchers studied and interviewed more than 1,000 truck drivers and found that those who regularly used caffeine to help stay awake and alert were 63 percent less likely to be involved in a truck crash.

Of course, the results of this study should not surprise anyone. However, the degree to which judicious caffeine use decreases crash risk is noteworthy.

Researchers first found more than 500 truck drivers who had not been in a crash over the past year, and more than 500 who had. They conducted interviews with all drivers to find out details about their lifestyle and habits. After adjusting for other factors, the results showed that caffeine was a big safety boost behind the wheel.

So once again, research has confirmed that caffeine can keep us awake and alert. But researchers in this study say the results come with one major caveat: caffeine should not be considered a substitute for sleep.

There is no substitute for sleep, and there probably never will be. It is a human need, especially for those who spend long hours behind the wheel of a giant vehicle each day. Therefore, truck drivers should use caffeine to supplement the benefits of sleep, but it's probably a good thing that there are also legally mandated rest breaks in place.

Source: New York Times, "Caffeine May Boost Driver Safety," Nicholas Bakalar, Mar. 21, 2013

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