Is It Legal to Eat While Driving?

Whereas many drivers are guilty of sneaking snacks behind the wheel, the uncertainty around the legality of such behavior means that one could be risking more than a hefty fine. While no specific road rules exist that deter eating while driving, drivers can still receive huge fines if doing so distracts them or affects their control, jeopardizing car safety.

Eating while driving leads to deadly accidents

A distracted woman driver eating and talking on the phone in Long Beach, California
A distracted woman driver eating and talking on the phone | Bob Riha Jr./Getty Images

Distracted driving is one of the main causes of fatal car accidents in the United States. Going by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records, distracted driving led to the loss of 3,166 lives in 2017. While most of these accidents were caused by cell phone use, the others were due to other distractions on the road, such as eating.

An additional report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights that approximately nine Americans lose their lives from distracted driving and 1,000 more are seriously injured on an average day. Another Lytx study carried out in 2014 concluded the likelihood of a motorist who is drinking or eating getting into an accident is 3.6 times higher than focused drivers.

According to a study by CBS Local, 85 million Americans stop at a drive-thru to grab something for the road on an average day. Grabbing a snack or a meal on the go is more common practice today than any other time in the past. The legalities around eating while driving differs by state, although it is mostly legal. 

Even though eating while driving has become a norm, it does not mean that the police will see this from the same lens. Eating could be used as evidence if the driver was distracted. To fight distracted deaths, some states are beginning to review their driving laws. States are now starting to add eating and driving statutes to their laws.

The new Washington State distracted driving law has a provision for a $99 ticket for various types of distracted driving acts such as grooming, eating, reading, and smoking while driving, according to an article from eTags. This provision states that drivers can be ticketed for eating when operating a vehicle if the activity results in unsafe driving.

Best and worst foods to eat while driving

We are not referring to simple snacks like some French fries, a lunch bar, or a smoothie. We are talking about whole meals. Therefore, it is important to understand the best and worst foods behind the wheel.

The good

1. A well-wrapped, medium-sized burrito. Vegans and carnivores alike can enjoy the delicious soft tortillas filled with whatever they want. The key is to ensure that the wrapping is done tightly.

2. Compact calzones.  While pizza may not be a viable food option when driving, its estranged cousin, the calzone, is a good alternative.

3. Baked food. Muffins, cupcakes, breakfast cookies, bacon, and sausage are ideal because they can be held in one hand.

4. Superior sushi.  The advantage is that anything can be thrown inside a sushi roll, including the sauces. Ensure that the roll is uncut and wrapped in foil to be consumed as a burrito.

The bad

1. A scorching cup of coffee. We are referring to a big Starbucks-sized cup. If the lid is not on properly, you may drop the cup, get burned, and lose control of the car in the process.

2. Hamburgers. Because you need two hands to eat a hamburger, even a medium-sized one,  it’s dangerous to eat while driving.

3. Ice cream. Eating ice cream behind the wheel is very dangerous. If you really crave it, go for a shake instead.

4. Donuts. Jelly or cream-filled donuts cause sticky fingers, which are as dangerous on the road as greasy fingers when behind the wheel.

The bottom line

While driving, motorists have a personal responsibility to focus on the road and follow all safety guidelines to keep themselves and those around them safe.  When they are eating on the go, they are multitasking and taking their attention off the road. Therefore, drivers should stay clear of such behavior, but the above recommendations should be followed to minimize risk if they have to eat.

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