Tired while driving? Here’s what does & doesn’t help

Research has shown that drinking caffeinated beverages and listening to music are two popular fatigue-fighting measures that drivers take — but very few studies have tested the usefulness of those measures.

So what works best? A new study evaluated which method, if either, can successfully combat driver fatigue.

night driving car

Tunes or tea if you’re tired while driving?

In “Comparison of Caffeine and Music as Fatigue Countermeasures in Simulated Driving Tasks,” human factors/ergonomics researchers designed a simulated driving study that measured driver fatigue levels against the use of caffeine, music, or no stimulant.

Twenty participants completed three 120-minute driving sessions over a three-day span at the same time each day, then scored their fatigue levels on a questionnaire.

Results indicated that drivers who used either caffeine or music as a stimulant felt significantly less tired than those who did not. The researchers noted, however, that those who drank a caffeinated beverage to stay awake performed their driving tasks much better than those who listened to music or those in the control group.

“Even though both caffeine and music keep drivers feeling more awake, caffeine also helps them maintain good driving performance,” said Liu, a graduate student in McMaster University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Music, on the other hand, can distract drivers, which may explain why driving performance is not significantly improved when it is used as a fatigue countermeasure.”

Backs up other caffeine and driving data

This finding is in line with a 2013 study published on the British Medical Journal site.

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According to Australian researchers, 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.

Forty three percent of drivers reported consuming substances containing caffeine, such as for the express purpose of staying awake. Lisa Sharwood (The George Institute, University of Sydney), lead author of the paper, says that this suggests drivers are making behavioural adaptation in order to manage their fatigue. “This may seem effective in enhancing their alertness, but it should be considered carefully in the context of a safe and healthy fatigue management strategy; energy drinks and coffee certainly don’t replace the need for sleep”.



After adjusting for factors such as age, sleep patterns, symptoms of sleep apnea, distance driven, breaks taken, and night driving schedules, the researchers found that drivers who consumed caffeine to help them stay awake were 63% less likely to crash than drivers who did not take caffeinated substances.

The researchers conclude that the consumption of caffeinated substances “can significantly protect against crash risk for the long distance commercial driver” and this has “important implications for the improvement of fatigue management strategies for this and similar populations.” They do say, however, that the benefit is only useful for a short time and that having regular breaks, napping and appropriate work schedules are strongly recommended.

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