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Is Eating While Driving Legal? Understanding Distracted Driving

yang men driving car and eating coffee, talking on phone and hol

We’ve all been there, eating a snack or sipping a (non-alcoholic) drink while driving. And while this might seem like an innocent habit, this is in fact one of the more dangerous things drivers can do while behind the wheel.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of death involving motor vehicles. The CDC reports that on average, eight people die every day because of an incident related to distracted driving. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration details that distracted driving, which encompasses eating while driving, accounts for over 80% of all motor vehicle accidents.

There are three main types of distractions a driver can encounter. They include the following:

  • Visual distractions – When a driver takes their eyes off the road
  • Manual distractions – When a driver takes their hands off the steering wheel
  • Cognitive distractions – When a driver takes their mind off of driving

Driving while eating is one of the most dangerous types of distractions because drivers will typically engage in all three types of distractions listed above at the same time.

Is Eating While Driving Illegal?

There are no rules that explicitly make it illegal to eat and drink non-alcoholic beverages while driving. Still, there are rules regarding distracted driving that can pertain to eating and drinking while driving. While you can’t specifically be charged with “eating and driving,” you might face charges related to careless driving if the distractions were brought on because of eating and driving. If you get into a wreck, your behavior behind the wheel can be used against you as evidence of negligence.

Why is Eating While Driving Dangerous?

When a driver is eating while they are operating a motor vehicle, more often than not, they will have at least one hand off the wheel. Not only are they manually distracted, but they also are focused on eating their food, rather than focusing on the road. Their eyes will dart from their lap to their food in order to accomplish both tasks at hand.

In a study done by Exxon, 70% of 1,000 drivers surveyed admitted to eating while driving. Another 83% admitted to drinking beverages while they were behind the wheel. These staggering statistics reveal just how comfortable drivers have become with this dangerous distraction.

Your Hands are Off the Wheel

Driving with one hand on the wheel may create the feeling that you are still in full control of the vehicle. The reality is, a driver’s reaction time can be significantly delayed in the event of an incident. It can take a fraction of a second for an event to occur on the road and not having your hands free can cause you to overcorrect in steering.

Your Focus Is off the Road

Just as looking down at your phone while you are driving takes away from your focus on the road, so does eating while driving. Eating can take more effort and focus than other distractions such as texting. This lack of focus can cause you to miss important signs on the road that signal an obstruction or danger is ahead.

Delayed Reaction Time

A major concern with eating and drinking while driving is delayed reaction time. Exxon’s study revealed that while eating, a driver’s reaction speed is lowered by 44% and while drinking, a driver’s reaction speed is lowered by 22%. A driver is also 18% more likely to experience bad control over the lane while they are drinking as well.

In contrast, drivers who are drinking hot or cold beverages and accidentally spill them on themselves may also exhibit extreme vehicle control issues such as sudden swerving or braking. Spilling a hot drink can also cause severe burns that further draw your attention away from the road.

Preventing Distracted Driving

The easiest way to keep from driving distracted is by eliminating food and drink distractions altogether while you drive. The best way to do this is by consuming your food before you get into the vehicle. Leaving snacks out of your vehicle will also eliminate the temptation to snack while you drive. If you have to drive with a drink like coffee or water, consider using a slim cup that has a spill-proof cover on the top.

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident caused by a distracted driver in Los Angeles or the Antelope Valley, call the Lancaster personal injury attorneys at the Kistler Law Firm for a free consultation at 661-206-6990.

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