Should eating while driving be illegal?

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Most Austin drivers have done it at some point, drinking a cup of coffee on the drive into work or eating a sandwich during a long road trip. So many drivers do it, 70 percent according to an Exxon Mobile study, that eating behind the wheel may seem like a normal part of driving, but should it?

While convenient, eating or drinking while driving distracts the driver, takes their eyes from the road and keeps their hands off the wheel. Many researchers equate the ill effects of eating while driving to texting while driving.

The effectof eating or drinking on a driver’s reactions

All distracted driving behaviors limit a driver’s ability to quickly and safely react to the conditions of the road. A study conducted by Lytx found that drivers who were eating or drinking are 3.6 times more likely to have an accident than those not consuming food or beverage. This occurs because drivers may:

  • Not see brake lights, merging cars or important road safety signs
  • Have slower reaction times to brake or change direction
  • Be distracted by a spill and not notice changing road conditions

The possible situations are endless, but all impair a driver’s focus and critical ability to quickly react to dangers in front of them. Driving has become such a mundane part of everyday life that people regularly forget its inherent dangers and that it demands caution.

Understanding the legal implications

Other distracted driving behaviors, such as texting while driving, have been widely-recognized for their risks and specific state laws ban them. For example, new Texas drivers can face legal repercussions if they are spotted texting by law enforcement. However, eating or drinking while driving does not yet have any state laws banning the behavior.

While not specifically banned, drivers could still face charges of distracted or reckless driving if their eating or drinking habits place other drivers at risk or cause an accident. This can lead to heavy fines, license suspension or even jail time.

Following safer driving practices

The only way to prevent eating and drinking behind the wheel is to consciously decide to not engage in this behavior. Have your morning coffee once you get to work, or pull over at a rest stop on a long car ride to rehydrate and eat. It may add a few minutes to your overall trip, but it can prevent unnecessary accidents, injuries and deaths.

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