Following a spate of cases involving erratic and dangerous driving by motorists who have downed too much caffeine, road groups yesterday issued a warning to drivers on the dangers of excess Red Bull consumption.
Andrew Howard, head of road safety for the AA Motoring Trust, said: "The message is that if you take anything as a stimulant, be it caffeine or herbal medicines, then you have got to be aware that they ultimately have an effect on you and the way you drive.
"Caffeine in sensible qualities can help drivers stay alert, but if taken to excess, like many other drugs, it can have strange effects on people."
Mr Howard was speaking after Peter Edwards, 48, received a four-month jail sentence on Friday for dangerous driving. As Edwards led police on a 50-mile car chase through Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, the pursuing officers thought they were following a drunk driver.
The motorist reached speeds of 80mph on an A-road and at one point drove straight over a roundabout. Police made an attempt to drive in front of Edwards to slow him down, but he simply veered out to overtake in front of a lorry.
When Edwards was finally stopped by officers in Swaffham, Norfolk, they discovered his bizarre driving was the result of having drunk 20 cans of Red Bull, the caffeine-rich energy beverage.
A leading expert on sleep deprivation expressed astonishment at the sheer volume of Red Bull that Edwards managed to consume. Describing the case as "rather extraordinary and unique", Professor Jim Horne of Loughborough University said: "This was 10 times more than we would recommend. It is reprehensible what he did. This was a massive amount of caffeine and it would have had an extraordinary effect on him."
However, the court was told that there were mitigating circumstances in Edwards's case. His mother had died of cancer two weeks before the chase and he had been suffering from severe depression.
Caffeine is thought to be the most widely used drug in the world. While it is rarely taken in the vast quantities consumed by Edwards, it is not unusual for drivers to drink coffee or a caffeine-based drink such Red Bull in order to stay awake. The road safety charity Brake recommends that drivers stop and drink a coffee or Red Bull if they are tired, but it is now warning that levels of intake must be controlled.
A spokes-woman for Red Bull said: "Red Bull is a functional energy drink used throughout the world, by athletes, busy professionals, active students and drivers on long journeys."
But she stressed: "Research has proven that just one or two cans of Red Bull can help alleviate the effects of tiredness. There is no added benefit in consuming the product in excessive amounts. One can of Red Bull contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of filter coffee."