WEDNESDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages to stay awake is linked with a 63 percent lower crash risk for long-distance truckers, a new study finds.

Australian researchers looked at 530 truckers who had a crash while on a long-distance trip and 517 who did not have a crash in the previous year. The study was conducted between 2008 and 2011 in New South Wales and Western Australia.

Forty-three percent of the drivers in the study said they consumed caffeinated products -- such as coffee, tea, caffeine tablets or energy drinks -- to help them stay awake while on the road.

After adjusting for age, sleep patterns and other factors, the researchers found that drivers who consumed caffeine to keep them awake were 63 percent less likely to have a crash than those who did not use caffeine, even though those who used caffeine drove longer distances and slept less.

The researchers also found that having a previous crash in the past five years increased the risk of a crash during the study period by 81 percent, and this increased risk remained significant even after taking other factors into account.

There was a link between heavy smoking and crash risk, but this did not remain after accounting for other factors, according to the study, which was published online March 19 in the British Medical Journal.

Consuming caffeinated products "can significantly protect against crash risk for the long-distance commercial driver" and this finding has "important implications for the improvement of fatigue-management strategies for this and similar populations," the researchers concluded.

They added, however, that the benefit provided by caffeine is only useful for a short time, and that it is important to have regular breaks, naps and appropriate work schedules.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the causes and risks of drowsy driving.