Drivers rely on coffee to keep them alert. Caffeinated drinks seem to go hand in hand with long trips when we have to keep our wits about us. Many accidents are caused by tired drivers, but how effective is coffee for weary drivers who are trying to fight off fatigue? In honour of International Coffee Day, we look at the effects of coffee on drivers. Coffee can play a role in improving driving safety, according to a recent study by the Association for Psychological Science.
The caffeine test
The study, conducted by the Australian Department of Defence and the University of Sydney, found that participants in a simulated driving test who used moderate doses of caffeine fared better than those who didn’t, even after 40 hours of being awake.
One group of participants was given caffeinated chewing gum containing 200mg of caffeine at regular two-hour intervals. The second group was given a placebo chewing gum with the same taste and texture that didn’t contain caffeine. The amount of caffeine in the chewing gum was about the same as that found in a strong cup of coffee.
In total, participants consumed four servings of 200mg caffeine, which is the equivalent of four cups of coffee, over a 50-hour period. Participants did a 40-minute driving simulation every three hours consisting of an easy scenario of driving on a rural highway at 80km/h with no obstacles. Assessors judged performance by the ability to remain in the correct lane, keep to the speed limit and avoid crashing.
Driving performance declined for all participants after 48 hours without sleep, but drivers who consumed caffeine fared better than those who didn’t. The placebo group demonstrated signs of drowsy driving at an earlier stage, including the worst performance in all performance categories. According to assessors, drivers in the placebo group started crashing after 22 hours compared with those in the caffeine group who didn’t have any crashes until the 40th hour.
A word about coffee
Happy International Coffee Day everyone! But please remember that while caffeine might improve the driving abilities of participants in these experiments, it’s important to note that optimal driving requires that drivers are sufficiently well-rested before long trips. Drivers should also ensure that they have had enough food, are hydrated, and take regular breaks for rest and stretching so they can continue to perform at their optimum.
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