Does Caffeine Help or Hurt Fatigued Truck Drivers?

truck sunset pixlr

Federal Hours of Service rules dictate how long commercial truck drivers can be on the road and impose mandatory rest periods. The rules, enacted December 2017, addressed the significant number of fatal truck accidents involving fatigued truck drivers.

The trucking industry generally objected to these rules and the federal government listened.  On March 2, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration submitted changes to the Hours of Service rules – labeled a Final Rule – to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The FMCSA has not provided details to the proposed changes, which it began working on in 2018.  The OMB ruling can take up to four months. If approved, implementation could take months or years.

Temporary Changes to Truck Driver Hours of Service Rules

Now, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the federal government understandably has temporarily waived current Hours of Service Rules for some over-the-road truckers.  These exceptions pertain to truck drivers hauling goods needed to address our current emergency situation.  These include:

·         Shipments relating to medical supplies for COVID-19 testing, diagnosis and treatment

·         Food, paper products and other items for emergency restocking of grocery stores

·         Community safety and sanitation supplies, such as masks, gloves and soap

·         Raw materials needed to produce essential items

The importance of getting these much-need supplies to communities across the country is obvious.  But this may also mean more dangerously tired truck drivers on the road during this period.

Can the solution many of these exempted truckers may employ to counter fatigue – drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages – actually compound the dangers of catastrophic truck crashes? New research seems to indicate so.

A United Kingdom researcher examined the habits and driving histories of 3,000 U.S. truckers in eight states.  This study (“Associations Between High Caffeine Consumption, Driving Safety Indicators, Sleep and Health Behaviours in Truck Drivers”), co-conducted by the Virginia Tech Transport Institute, found that the more cups of coffee or other caffeine-fueled drinks consumed, the greater the chances of crashing.

High Use of Caffeine and Truck Crashes

The research compared truck drivers who consume a high amount of caffeine ( five or more cups daily) and truckers who are low caffeine consumers (one caffeine drink a day). About 6% more of the highly caffeinated truck drivers were found to be in an accident in the last three years versus the other group.

The high-caffeine consuming truckers experienced shorter sleep times and more daytime sleepiness. They also were in poorer health and more likely to engage in other unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, eating poorly and alcohol consumption.

The study concludes that high intake of caffeine does not reduce crashes, and caution should be used  when it’s relied on to fight off dangerous truck driver fatigue.

As truckers rush to get much needed equipment and supplies and some federal rules are relaxed, they and their employers should not relax their responsibilities for safe behavior on the road.

If you were seriously injured or lost a family member in an accident with a commercial truck at any time, a truck accident lawyer can investigate to uncover the negligent actions that were the cause.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Blog March 27, 2020


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