Eating While Driving: Is It Legal on US Roads?

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The act of eating behind the wheel is a common scenario on US roads, where busy schedules and long commutes often lead drivers to multitask. But is this practice legal, or can it lead to a run-in with the law? This article serves up the facts on the legalities of eating and driving in the United States.

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The Legality of Eating While Driving

There is no federal law explicitly prohibiting eating while driving. However, laws concerning distracted driving can apply to any activity that diverts attention from driving. Distracted driving laws vary by state, and in some areas, eating while driving can be considered a distraction.

“Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, … or any other activity that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.” — National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

While not specifically mentioned, eating falls within the broad activities that could potentially distract a driver.

State and Local Regulations

Some states and local jurisdictions have passed laws that more directly address eating while driving:

  • In certain states, drivers can be cited under general distracted driving laws if an officer deems that eating is interfering with safe driving practices.
  • Specific local ordinances might classify eating while driving as a form of distracted driving, leading to fines or other penalties.

Consequences of Distracted Driving

Even without specific bans on eating while driving, if this behavior leads to erratic driving, a driver can face consequences:

  • Fines and citations for distracted driving can be issued.
  • In the event of an accident caused by distracted driving, more severe charges, such as reckless driving, could be applied.

Defensive Driving Recommendations

Defensive driving courses and safety advocates recommend avoiding any non-driving activities while behind the wheel, including eating:

  • Keeping both hands on the wheel and maintaining focus on the road are best practices.
  • If necessary, drivers are encouraged to pull over to a safe location to eat rather than doing so while the vehicle is in motion.

The Takeaway

While there is no nationwide ban on eating while driving, doing so can be considered a form of distracted driving and lead to legal ramifications, especially if it contributes to unsafe driving behavior. Drivers are best advised to avoid any activities that could divert their attention away from driving.

For the most current information on distracted driving regulations in your area, contact local law enforcement or visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.


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