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Is it Legal to Eat and Drive?


Published in Distracted Driving on April 10, 2017.

Modern life is very fast-paced, and many working adults must multitask every day. However, there are some times when the temptation to multitask is not worth the risk. One of the best examples of this is when you are behind the wheel. Distracted driving is a serious problem causing thousands of injuries and deaths in America each year. While most people associate “distracted driving” with using cell phones, eating while driving could also lead to a distracted driving charge or even a serious accident.

What is Distracted Driving?

Simply put, distracted driving is any action that takes the driver’s attention away from driving. Distractions typically fall into one of three categories:

  • Visual distractions are anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road, such as “rubbernecking” to look at a roadside crash, or glancing at a map or cell phone.
  • Manual distractions are anything that causes drivers to remove their hands from the steering wheel and/or gearshift, such as adjusting the car stereo or reaching into a bag for a handful of French fries.
  • Cognitive distraction is when something other than driving preoccupies the driver’s mind. This could happen after a particularly stressful day at work or anxiety about the destination.

Eating while driving requires the use of one’s hands, and often the driver will need to visually locate his or her food. This means eating while driving potentially counts as both a manual and a visual distraction. Additionally, if a driver spills hot food or beverages into his or her lap while driving, he or she could lose control of the vehicle and cause a crash.

Some states have distracted driving laws that expressly prohibit eating behind the wheel, but other states without specific language for eating behind the wheel will more than likely still consider eating while driving as an unsafe distraction.

Possible Damages in Distracted Driving Accidents

Taking your eyes off the road for even a few seconds can mean you are essentially driving blind for hundreds of feet, depending on your speed. Car crashes can cause serious injuries including broken bones, lacerations, burns, crushing injuries, blunt force trauma, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and death. Victims of car crashes caused by distracted driving may be able to obtain compensation for their losses through a personal injury lawsuit.

Potential damages awarded in distracted driving lawsuits may include:

  • Medical expenses, such as hospital bills, ambulance transportation, prescription costs, rehabilitation fees, and any costs for ongoing treatments or additional necessary surgeries.
  • Pain and suffering. A plaintiff’s attorney will likely use expert witness testimony to show the court the extent of the pain and emotional distress caused by a crash, and the judge will use this testimony to award an appropriate figure.
  • Property damage, for damage to the victim’s vehicle and any other personal belongings damaged or destroyed in the crash.
  • Lost income. If an accident leaves victims unable to return to work, they may sue for the wages they would have reasonably expected to earn in that time.
  • Punitive damages. Judges sometimes award plaintiffs punitive damages to punish defendants for intentionally dangerous or grossly negligent behavior. Most states have caps for how much a judge may award in punitive damages. These damages are meant to discourage similar behavior in the future.

If a crash causes a death, the deceased victim’s loved ones may be able to file a wrongful death claim under their state’s wrongful death statutes. These statutes differ from state to state, but generally, claimants have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim and only certain individuals may file such a claim.

Distracted driving is extremely dangerous. While eating breakfast during your morning commute may seem like a smart way to save time in a busy schedule, it is expressly illegal in some states, and even where it is not, doing so puts you and everyone on the road near you at serious risk.