Is It Legal to Eat and Drive?

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By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on January 13, 2014 10:31 AM

Here's a question that hungry commuters may want answered: Is it legal to eat and drive?

It may seem like a silly question, given the number of drive-thru food options available. But with distracted driving laws on the books nationwide, can eating while driving technically be considered unlawful?

So far, there's no law that explicitly bans the act of "eating" behind the wheel. However, because of the way distracted driving laws are worded, local law enforcement could potentially determine that shoveling a muffin in your mouth while maneuvering through traffic is enough to warrant a ticket.

What's Considered Distracted Driving?

When people think of distracted driving laws, they typically think of cell phone and texting prohibitions which are often explicitly listed as illegal.

However, under most distracted driving laws, police can actually pull you over for engaging in any activity that prevents you from driving safely. This can include applying makeup while driving, cuddling with your dog while driving, or even eating while driving.

Here are some examples to chew over:

  • A local ordinance in Huron, South Dakota, prohibits distracted driving. The law defines "distracted driving" as "inattentive driving while operating a moving motor vehicle that results in the unsafe operation of the vehicle." This includes reading, grooming, "or engaging in any other activity which causes distractions" -- even "eating pizza," as The Associated Press reported.
  • New Jersey is also considering expanding its distracted driving ban to include eating while driving. Similar to Huron's law, the bill would prohibit "any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with ... safe operation," The Star-Ledger reports. Critics say it's too vaguely worded.

Avoiding Distracted Driving

It's easy to see how eating and driving can become a distraction -- dripping sauces, bad packaging, poor hand-to-mouth coordination, and hot temperatures can cause you to shift your focus from the road. It has happened before: In one case, a commercial truck driver choked on spicy pork rinds and lost control of his vehicle; luckily, he suffered only minor injuries and did not hit any other vehicles.

Since every state has different rules regarding whether it's legal to eat and drive, check your local laws or talk to your friendly neighborhood traffic ticket lawyer so you can avoid a citation.

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