Don’t Eat and Drive!

Even though it's not technically illegal, it can still lead to costly, dangerous outcomes.

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When I first got my driver’s license, the place I was most excited to go first was the drive-thru. Finally I could have my own car meals, getting whatever I want away from the gaze of my parents, not worried about spilling a container of fries in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. But the actual eating of the fast food wasn’t quite as easy as I thought. Turns out that steering through traffic with my non-dominant hand while tightly gripping a McChicken with the other is not only a messy affair but quite a dangerous one—and is a bite of a McChicken really worth getting into a fiery car crash?

Last week a driver in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, learned this lesson when he was pulled over by local police. According to the Olmsted Falls Police Blotter, police thought the man was drunk because he was weaving through lanes and taking wide turns. But he wasn’t chugging a beer, he was just eating a cheeseburger. While he ultimately got off with a warning, the incident still serves as a good reminder of the consequences of chowing down behind the wheel.

Is eating while driving illegal?

There are no explicit laws against eating while driving in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get cited for something else if your Taco Bell order starts affecting your driving ability. For example, while officers aren’t necessarily pulling people over if they spot them nibbling on something in the driver’s seat, in Washington state, you can be cited for “distracted driving” and charged with a $99 fine if you’ve already been pulled over for driving illegally and the officer spots a burger in your hand, reports Food & Wine.

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Even if you’re not worried about legal retaliation, consider the inherent dangers. A 2014 study conducted by telematics company Lytx showed that drivers with food or drink distractions are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a collision than drivers who aren’t eating or drinking. That’s nearly the same distraction rate as texting while driving, which is illegal in 48 states.

Chances are if you’re eating while driving you’re already in a hurry, which could only add to any erratic behavior behind the wheel. But consider the safety of yourself and others before trying to scarf down a value meal while on the highway. Pull over into a parking lot and get enough bites to keep your stomach at bay, and then go on your way. Arriving at your destination just a few minutes late with a half-eaten cheeseburger is better than feeling totally satiated as you cause a four-car pileup.

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