Why You Should Stop Eating Behind The Wheel


Phone usage has become the forefront of issues surrounding distracted driving, and deservedly so. However, eating while driving, a practice as old as the advent of drive-thru restaurants themselves, has been accepted as normal driving behaviour.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, and we will be covering various forms of distractions that can have a profoundly dangerous effect on your driving ability.

Image via mirror.co.uk

Image via mirror.co.uk

The Dangers of Eating while Driving

Firstly, it’s imperative to fully appreciate the risks that accompany eating while driving. To recap, these are the three common types of distractions that diminish drivers’ capacity to operate their vehicles safely and responsibly:

  • Visual distractions: when the driver’s eyes are diverted away from the road for an unrelated task.

  • Manual distractions: physically holding or operating another object or device, causing partial or total removal of hands from the wheel.

  • Cognitive distractions: activities that take the driver’s concentration away from driving.

Most high-risk driving distractions often combine more than one, or all three of these distractions. Eating or consuming a beverage is one of the most distracting things to do while driving. From unwrapping food packaging to picking it up while trying not to make a mess in your car, or running over a pothole and spilling a hot beverage on your white shirt—these make for significant risk of unexpected distractions, and could easily lead to an accident.

Lisa Robinson, senior program manager at the National Safety Council, describes that accidents caused by food and drink, specifically, are extremely overlooked. "Just a couple weeks ago I spoke with a man who completely totaled his pickup truck because the styrofoam bottom of his ice-tea cup was about to break," she said. "He took both hands off the wheel, his eyes off the road, and he ended up hitting the cars in front of him going 70 mph."

Meanwhile, orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Lisa Cannada sees victims of distracted driving cases in her practice every day. As a medical expert and spokesperson for a public-service campaign intent on quashing all forms of distracted driving -- she's all too familiar with the dangers of eating while driving.

"Even a crash at low-speeds, 20 mph and slower, can have long-lasting, permanent health effects," Cannada said. "Chronic neck, back, and head problems are common injuries from lower-energy crashes, so even fender benders can be major. I think a lot of people might justify snacking or sipping their coffee in traffic when they aren't going that fast. But even distraction during that period can be so dangerous for motorists."

In short, attempting to transform your vehicle into a make-shift dining room is courting trouble.

The Statistics

Image via Adeevee

Image via Adeevee

A study conducted by the University of Leeds found that reaction times of motorists were 44% slower when eating, and 22% slower when drinking.Drinkers were also 18% more likely to lose lane control. In comparison, reaction times for texting while driving were 37.4% slower.

Additionally, a study by Lytx in 2014 found that drivers who eat or drink while on the road are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a collision.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the “secondary task distraction” of eating or drinking from an open container while driving increases the likelihood of near-miss crashes or crashes by nearly 39%.

Is It Really Worth It?

Just by simply delaying your need to have a snack, drink or meal, you can considerably reduce the odds of a car crash. If the need is necessary and immediate, pull over at a safe spot to enjoy your meal before continuing your journey.

As always, stay safe!