Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to distract a driver. Someone cut you in your lane, somebody calls you, there’s a billboard that’s just too vulgar or bright; or you could be eating while driving.
I mean, I have done before. I would run out of the door in a hurry to start my morning commute, order a breakfast biscuit and a cup of joe at a McDonald’s drive thru and drive off to work.
When my family and I travel out-of-state in our car, I would sip coffee while driving, or munch on a burger or sub when I get hungry.
Can eating while driving increase the likelihood of a crash?
Eating while driving definitely saves some time, especially if you are in a hurry. But just like texting or using a phone while driving, it could have its risks.
What do the studies say?
A study conducted by LYTX.com found that drivers who are eating and drinking are 3.6 times more likely to be in an accident compared with those who do not.
This rate is slightly lower than drivers who use their device hands-free (4.6 times) or those who use a smartphone or tablet (4.7 times) more likely to be in a collision.
That doesn’t look very good.
The findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adds its own statistics to this–eating or drinking from an open container can increase the likelihood of a car crash by 39 percent!
A study published in the Traffic Injury Prevention Journal claims that texting and eating can lead to poorer driving performance in a simulation.
You could say that this is ONLY a simulation and not real world conditions. But I could see how driving could lead to distractions.
Dangers of Eating and Drinking While Driving
The container of your food or drink may break down and you may focus your full attention to your food instead of on driving on the road. Because of road conditions or the bumps on the road, you may drop your burger on to your shirt, and since you are on your way to the office, your brain may automatically try to prevent that from happening.
You try to catch your burger, remove both hands form the steering wheel, and focus on your burger and shirt and bammm, you end up hitting other cars on the road. This could happen!
Or imagine if you are happily driving on the highway and then you lift your coffee cup–the one in Styrofoam cup with a plastic removable lid–and then you end up dropping the very hot liquid onto yourself.
That will most likely bring intense pain on your torso or crotch, which may be enough to lead you to jerk your hands reflexively to the right or the left.
Coffee (or any hot beverage) and burgers can be easily put to your mouth with one hand. But there are drivers who would be eating with a spoon out of a cereal box.
Or how about French Fries? I don’t eat French Fries without ketchup and it’s a pain to put dip a fry into the small pouch of ketchup.
And if you’re on your way to work, it’s so easy to drop ketchup or any piece of food onto your clothes.
Distraction is Distraction!
Eating and drinking can be a source of distraction for drivers. Heck, we are already very distracted in our daily lives, and we still manage to bring distraction with us as we drive!
But eating and drinking can take your attention off the road and that could lead to deadly consequences.
When driving your hands should be on the wheel and your eyes on the road. When eating or drinking, you are sneaking glances on to the dashboard, to where your food is, to where the trash bin is, or wherever the pesky fry was dropped. Some accidents happen in split seconds and without your attention on the road, you just might hit another car.
Besides, eating inside the car can lead to clutter. Food pieces and wrappers can be strewn on hard to reach areas of the car.
So it might be better if you make your car a snack-free zone. I hear parents groaning at this. Granted, kids, especially little ones need their snacks and food and mess inside the car is just a given if you have little ones.
How to avoid eating and drinking while driving
If you can help it, though, avoid eating and drinking while driving.
Eat at home before going to work. You may need to wake up 30-60 minutes earlier, but that could help you drive more safely. You also save your work clothes from food stains.
Stop and park at a safe space to eat. If you are traveling for several hours, stop at a restaurant or at a rest area to eat. You get to stretch and step away from your vehicle for a while. And you minimize the dangers of distracted driving.
Are you breaking the law if you eat and drink while driving?
No you’re not. Unless you are exhibiting the signs of distracted driving. If you are driving and zigging and zagging in the highway, then you may be charged with distracted or reckless driving.
The bottom line is that you need to pay attention to your driving and to your surroundings to avoid accidents. While it is not illegal, you may still get a ticket if you look like you are distracted–you know like swerving from lane to lane and reaching down to the floor of the
Further Reading and Resources on Safe Driving
This article is pretty long but it makes a compelling argument against eating and drinking while driving: https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/distracted-driving-eating.
https://www.decidetodrive.org is a website dedicated to educating the public about the importance of focused driving and avoiding even the littlest distractions.