Is eating while driving illegal?

What you might consider as a harmless snack on the road might be contributing to thousands of accidents and near misses on Irish roads each year.

Driving | road safety

Although there is no specific law that explicitly bans or criminalises eating behind the wheel, research shows that is just as dangerous as checking phone notifications or making calls.

Deemed as careless driving, you can be penalised for snacking behind the wheel if you are endangering yourself, or other drivers on the road as a result of it.

Eating while driving demands you to take your eyes and mind off the road which in turn delays your reaction time, and is considered by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) as a top distraction while driving.

You might chuckle at the idea of eating while driving being a real threat on the road, but the facts and figures point to something entirely more sinister.

New research is putting the spotlight on Irish drivers’ bad habits, with 60% of drivers admitting to eating while driving which is the highest proportion in Europe, according to a survey commissioned by Aviva. In the same report, it notes that drivers in Kilkenny are the worst offenders, and Dublin drivers are the least likely to eat on while on the move.

Dangerous distractions

Anything that that requires you to take your eyes or mind off the road or hands off the wheel is known as a distraction. This is primarily because it reduces your control of your car.

Garda Niamh Mannion defines a distraction as anything “visual, manual or cognitive and can at times result in complete loss of control.”

Distractions cause an estimated 20-30% of all road collisions in this country. Which means eating along with other distractions that are widely understood as “minor” could actually be contributing to an alarming 1,400 collisions annually, according to the RSA.

Understandably, if you’re swerving all over the road trying to open a sandwich wrapper, then you there is a high chance you are making the roads a more dangerous place for yourself and other drivers around you.

To be exact, the chances of an accident are increased by a whopping 80%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Eating is just one of a few driving distractions laid out by the RSA, with mobile phones topping the list as the most dangerous. Other distractions include personal grooming such as applying make-up and brushing hair, and children fighting for your attention in the backseat.

Caught in the act

There have been several incidents in Ireland and the UK, where police are coming down hard on eat-drivers, indicating that it is a more serious offence than is widely believed.

In the UK, the Dorset police are serving up fines that would turn you off ever snacking behind the wheel again. One example involves a lady peeling a banana in traffic on her way to work. She was later fined £145 and received 3 penalty points, with the Dorset police stating they’re operating a hard “No Excuse” campaign against motorists.

Similarly, Gardai issued warnings after a woman in Kildare was fined €80 for eating a full plate of chicken curry behind the wheel. Although it might sound amusing or even skillful – it was extremely dangerous for the driver in question, and other drivers on the road, not to mention an extremely expensive curry.

Nevertheless, some drivers may argue that it’s convenient, or a means to an end if you’re hungry and in a hurry. Regardless, we encourage drivers to kick the habit and be considerate of others on the road. Picture your embarrassment at having to make a car insurance claim because you rear-ended someone while segmenting an orange!

Most dangerous foods

Despite the heavy fine, bananas do not make the cut as a dangerous food to eat on the road.

Unsurprisingly, coffee or hot drinks are the most dangerous foods to have while driving. For a lot of people, driving with coffee is part of the daily commute, but it is responsible for more driving accidents than any other food or drink.

John Farrell of The AA said he didn’t expect people to do away with their morning coffee on the drive to work, but urged people to be careful with hot drinks while driving, warning that “a simple incident like the lid coming off and coffee spilling could become disastrous.”

The following foods were ranked by the NHTSA as the top ten most dangerous:

10. Chocolate 9. Soft drinks 8. Jam or cream filled powdered donuts
7. Fried chicken 6. BBQ food 5. Hamburgers 4. Chili 3. Tacos 2. Hot soup 1. Coffee

Lack of awareness

Farrell believes that many people are simply not aware of the risk, saying “many motorists don’t register that eating while driving is a dangerous habit to fall in to. Combining eating with driving can significantly reduce your awareness levels, which in turn impacts your reaction time.”

Drivers should be aware that eating is in the same category as mobile phone use, and should treat it with the same caution.

Next time you reach for that snack before driving, ask yourself if it’s worth a hefty fine, or even worse – a fatal accident.

Tags: road safety
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