Distracted driving – eating and drinking behind the wheel

When people think of what is most distracting while driving, the most popular answer is usually: mobile phones.

While it’s true that taking a phone call or texting while driving is incredibly dangerous, there are actually a number of other distractions that can be just as hazardous.

However, one that may surprise you the most is eating and drinking while driving.  In fact, according to a study, eating or drinking while driving actually increases your likelihood of having a crash by almost 40%. [1]

This makes having a sip of Coke or snacking on a packet of chips behind the wheel almost as dangerous as sending a text message.

 

Is it even legal?

The technical answer to this question is: well, it depends.  Much of the time, whether it’s legal or illegal to eat and drink while driving could come down to the discretion of a police officer.  This is because it’s usually up to the cops to determine whether you are driving dangerously and are therefore not in ‘proper control of a vehicle’.

In NSW, for example, if a police officer determines you aren’t in full control of your car, then you could be facing a fine of up to $448 and 3 demerit points.  But the bad news doesn’t stop there, if you’re doing this in a School Zone then the fine rises steeply to $561 and 4 demerit points. [2]

 

Why is it so dangerous?

Eating or drinking while driving means you’re at risk in three areas:

  1. Hands free: Unless you have incredible flexibility, you’re likely going to need to take at least one hand off the steering wheel to take a bite of your chocolate bar while driving. This means that you don’t have full control of your vehicle.  And if your food is greasy, then your hands might be slippery.  This means when you go to turn your car, your hands might slip off, the car doesn’t turn, and you crash.  And that’s before we even start on the dangers of trying to open the packet of Skittles while driving on the highway.
  2. Driving blind: One of the biggest dangers when eating food (whether you’re driving or not) is spilling something on your clothes (we’ve all been there!). If you spill some sauce from your hamburger on your lap while driving, you’re going to inspect the damage.  Unfortunately, this also means you’ll take your eyes off the road which means if the car in front of you suddenly hits the brakes, you won’t see it coming.
  3. Wandering mind: We’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but multitasking isn’t a great thing to do. In fact, some studies have shown that multitasking reduces your performance by 40%. [3] The question to ask yourself: is it worth increasing the risk of crashing just to bite into a delicious doughnut?

 

After weighing all this up, it’s pretty clear that eating or drinking while driving isn’t a great idea.  But if you feel you’re on the brink of starvation and make the choice to get a bite to eat, we recommend pulling over and eating your food in a restaurant, café or, at the very least, a stationary car.

After all, no matter how appealing it is to take a sip or bite, it’s not worth the risk of a fine, a crash, or something even worse.

 

[1] https://www.lytx.com/en-us/news-events/press-release/2014/lytx-data-finds-three-dangerous-activities-you-may

[2] http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/nsw/consol_reg/rr2014104/s297.html

[3] https://www.verywellmind.com/multitasking-2795003

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