Is Eating While Driving Illegal?

eating and drivingWhen you think of distracted driving, particularly when it comes to the legal side of things, it’s usually about using cell phones. But there are plenty of other ways we distract ourselves behind the wheel, including eating on the go.

While studies show the dangers of distracted driving, including eating behind the wheel, we don’t tend to consider eating and driving as dangerous. Otherwise, why would there be drive-thru restaurants, right?

While there isn’t currently a law on the books that specifically prohibits eating while driving, the broadness of what is determined to be distracted driving can leave that open to some interpretation by traffic officers.

Examples in the News

Recently, a man in Georgia was ticketed for eating a quarter-pounder while driving. A local attorney said that he’d never seen such a thing, at least without there being a related driving violation, like following someone too closely. The ticketed driver plans to fight the ticket.

Back in 2011, the California Highway Patrol performed a distracted driving crackdown that included pulling over people for applying makeup, eating, having a dog on your lap, and other forms of distraction. So obviously the language in state laws describing distracted driving offenses is broad enough to allow for interpretation.

There may not be a law banning eating while driving, but most state laws allow room for interpretation. In 2013, New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski sponsored a bill that would broaden the distracted driving laws in that state to include “any activity not related to the safe operation of the vehicle.”

Broadening the definition of what is distracting enough to cause danger to other drivers is an interesting debate. What level of risk is acceptable, if any? The likelihood is that most people can drive safely and eat a cheeseburger at the same time, though applying makeup, not so much.

That’s not to say eating can’t make driving dangerous.

In 2010, a FedEx tractor-trailer driver lost control of his truck in Blaine, Washington after he started choking on spicy pork rinds. He veered from the southbound lanes and across the median into northbound lanes of Interstate 5. Fortunately, nobody else was hurt and the driver only experienced minor injuries.

When it comes to eating and driving in Washington or Oregon, be cautious and use your best judgement… but don’t discount the possibility that there will be future legislation that directly forbids it as distractions behind the wheel grow.

Also read: Is Texting More Dangerous Than DUI?

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