Is Too Much Caffeine Harmful for Drivers?

May 13, 2010

Being a commercial driver sometimes involves working long shifts, driving long distances at all times of the day and night.  With so far to go and little time to get there, driver fatigue can become a serious issue.  Many drivers use caffeinated products on a regular basis to help them stay alert on the road, but how much is too much for these products?  Fleet Owner takes a look at the benefits and risks of caffeine for drivers:

When it comes to staying alert behind the driver’s wheel, “caffeine is a very useful tool,” according to Todd Dawson, VP of the fatigue management company Circadian. “It does what it’s supposed to – it boosts reaction times, but it’s overused in our society. Taken in high amounts, caffeine can not only create health problems, but you build up a tolerance.”

The stimulant effect of the caffeine in two cups of coffee lasts five to seven hours, he said. Instead of drinking coffee throughout the day, perhaps consuming as much as eight cups, truck drivers should drink a cup or two at the start of their work day and then another one or two cups only when they begin to feel drowsy later in the day.  

“The benefit [from caffeine] is much higher when it’s used carefully,” Dawson said.

What concerns him are the “energy boost” products and other nutritional supplements commonly marketed to drivers at truckstops.  While caffeine is often a major component in these products, “there’s not been much good solid medical research published to be able to assess whether they’re good or bad, or whether they produce interactions with other substances like allergy medicines,” said Gerald Krueger, a researcher putting together a report on stimulants for the Transportation Research Board.

For now, though, he believes the best solution for drivers is “the natural way.” Combining proper sleep habits with an understanding for their circadian rhythms, “they can use the strengths of knowing more about their own body’s physiology to help manage fatigue,” Krueger noted.

Photo courtesy of Jennie Faber under the Creative Commons License