Is It Illegal to Eat and Drive?

Fast living has brought us many changes in our daily lives, and one of those is eating on the go. This is the reason why so many drive-throughs are so popular nowadays. They are fast, affordable, and sometimes the only option for people rushing to get from point A to point B. If you’re frequently eating while driving, it’s only logical to wonder – Is it illegal to eat and drive?

Constantly eating on the go is one thing, but breaking the law with it takes it to an entirely different level.

In this article, we guide you through some of the important facts and statistics about eating and drinking behind the wheel.

Eating While Driving

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The widely known fact about the human brain is that it performs pretty badly during multitasking.  Our brains can only focus on one thing at a given time.

When you’re doing several things at once, you can’t give either of those things proper attention. This isn’t such a bad thing, as doing several things at once may help you achieve more tasks at a given time.[1]

However, it gets worse when performing those tasks badly can get you in life-threatening situations. That’s exactly the case with driving.

Is it illegal to eat and drive?

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From a legal standpoint, there are no laws against eating or drinking while driving. That being said – it is not illegal to eat while driving.

Now that we got that clear, we want to remind you of something important:

  • Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s perfectly safe to do it.  

While driving, avoiding distractions is best, as the consequences may be fatal. Causing an accident because of snacking behind the wheel can even get you a penalty for careless driving.

Even though eating while driving isn’t prohibited – there are still some ways in which you may get fined for this habit.

Stick with us as we will show you the ways to go around this.

 Eating While Driving Statistics

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There’s a term for car accidents caused by eating and/or drinking while driving – it’s distracted driving.

And when it comes to statistics, it’s proven that 18% of all crashes are caused precisely by distracted driving.

If you’re still not convinced this is a great number, let’s take a look at some other statistics on this:

  • A study from 2019. showed 15% of injury crashes, 15% of motor vehicle crashes, and 9% of fatal crashes – all caused by distracted driving. This means that 2,895 people nationwide lost their lives in 2019. due to distracted driving. [2]
  • Driver’s reaction speed is lowered by 44% when eating during driving and also lowered by 22% when drinking while driving. [3]
  • Over 70% admit to eating while driving, and 85% of them admit to drinking while driving (a study done by ExxonMobil).
  • When a driver takes their eyes off the road for 5 seconds at 55 mph, a car passes the length of a football field.
  • According to NHTSA, drivers are 80% more likely to get in a car accident when eating or drinking while driving. [4]
  • About 7% of Americans admit to eating and drinking behind the wheel daily, whereas 56% of them admit to doing it from time to time. 

Foods to Avoid While Driving

The truth is – distraction comes in many forms. Many actions can divert your attention from the wheel.

The statistics on distracted driving show accidents are caused not only by drinks and food. They also show accidents are caused by cell phone use, texting, or even talking to other passengers.

However – there is something about food and drinks that makes drinking and eating while driving an awful habit to have.

To be more precise – some specific foods and drinks behind the wheel are more likely to cause an accident. That’s mostly because these foods and drinks require our full attention.

To make sure you avoid this, it’s best to memorize which foods to avoid.

Based on numerous statistics, here is a list of the most dangerous foods and drinks to consume while driving:

  • Coffee – Unsurprisingly, of the most common drinks people take with them while driving is coffee. Some people choose to drink their coffee while driving, despite the huge danger of spilling hot coffee on themselves.

The coffee you get at drive-throughs is made hotter than the regular coffee because more people take it to drink at work.

There’s a famous case on this from 1992. when a 79-old lady suffered third-degree burns after spilling hot McDonald’s coffee on her lap. [5]

  • Chocolate – This one may come off as surprising, but it really isn’t. Chocolate melts easily, not only in hot temperatures but also between our own fingers.

While you think that munching on a chocolate bar behind the wheel is harmless, it’s best to avoid it. Chocolate can easily get everywhere, so it demands more attention from us when eating.

  • Soda – Soda or other types of fizzy drinks can easily take away your attention for several reasons.

The shaken soda drinks easily bubble up, so they can cause splashes when you open a bottle or a can. This can divert your attention or cause a quick, instinctive reaction from you.

Also, spilled fizzy drinks are super sticky, and they can easily cause a mess, requiring your attention to clean it up.

  • Chicken wings – Not only are they very tasty, but chicken wings are also greasy.

This greasiness doesn’t bother us usually, but it can require us to eat chicken wings with both hands.

It also requires us to clean our hands more often – both of these things are not very good behind a steering wheel.

  • Donuts – Similarly to chicken wings, donuts can also be greasy and cause crumbs to fall on your seat.

They require both hands to eat, and you will easily get distracted trying to clean up the mess.

  • Hamburgers – Hamburgers are almost impossible to eat behind the wheel. They require the use of both hands and also your attention so that no food spills out on the other end.

Not to mention the greasiness and the crumbs – this is always expected when eating hamburgers.

  • Chips – Snacking on chips only sounds harmless, but this can’t be further from the truth.

A bag of chips can easily cause crumbs all over your seat. You can also get distracted while trying to grab the last chips from the bag.

DO NOTE: Any other kind of hot beverage or food (e.g., soup) should also be avoided by driving.

 

In What States Is It Illegal to Eat and Drive?

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There isn’t a law that explicitly bans eating and drinking while driving so far.

However, some states took distracted driving because of these habits more seriously than others.

For example, you can be fined $100 in South Dacota for eating or drinking while driving.

In California, you can be fined from $145 to $1000 for reckless driving. The California law can use food in car crashes as evidence against you.

In Florida, a fine for distracted driving can be from $30 to $100. The fine, of course, can get bigger if you cause a car crash.

In Texas, a fine for distracted driving can be anywhere from $25 to $200.

Here’s a list of some other states and their fines for careless driving:

  • Alabama: $25 – $75
  • Colorado: $30 – $1000
  • Virginia: $125 – $250
  • Carolina: $100
  • Kansas: $60
  • Ohio: $150 – $300
  • Missouri:$20-$200

IMPORTANT NOTE: Keep in mind that these fines can get bigger with a second or third offense. Also, some of these fines can come with additional penalties or even suspended driver’s licenses.

How to Avoid Eating and Drinking While Driving?

To avoid drinking and eating while driving, it’s best to plan ahead.

When you know you are going on a long drive, eat before hitting the road.

If you’re going for a shorter drive, get something to eat after you get to a spot. When you’re in a rush, even eating in a car in a parking lot is better than eating while driving.

Finally, keep the food out of your car to avoid any temptation. And if you need to have a drink with you, make sure to keep it in an easy-to-open bottle.

The Takeaway – Is It Illegal to Eat and Drive?

Eating or drinking while driving is not exactly prohibited by any law in the US.

However, this bad habit may lead to distracted driving, which may lead to you getting a fine. Also, this may lead to you losing your license and even causing an accident.

Statistics show astonishingly high numbers of fatal crashes due to distracted driving.

We encourage you to keep both hands on the wheel at all times. That means avoiding any unnecessary distractions.

It’s better to be late for work because you ate breakfast at home than to get into an accident while eating behind the wheel.