Most people don’t think about eating while driving, especially in Los Angeles. Drive-through windows are everywhere, and it’s so easy to get a quick bite on your way to work, home, or while you’re out running errands. 

But eating while driving is also a distraction, no matter how much you’re used to it. Even a cup of coffee can be enough of a distraction. A 2014 study by fleet management firm Lytx showed that drivers distracted by eating or drinking ran a 3.6% higher risk of having a crash. Another study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the distraction from eating or drinking from an open container increases the possibility of crashes or near-misses by as much as 39%. 

Drive in fast food, driver holding a burger

Top Foods That Can Cause An Accident

Food-related accidents happen primarily in the morning when people are headed to work. Anything that can become messy will also become a distraction if there’s a spill. 

Coffee and other beverages, soups and chili are more likely to spill during a drive. Large drink containers can also block a driver’s vision, even with a straw. 

Chocolate is just messy when it melts. But even if you’re successful in consuming it before that happens, small bits of chocolate may drop onto your clothing, car seat, or other part of the vehicle and melt. 

But chocolate and things like fried chicken can also lead to greasy hands that can slip off the wheel while driving. If a driver can’t hold the wheel, a crash is much more likely.  

Another possibility is a dropped bottle or other small object that could roll forward and catch under the accelerator or brake pedal. You may not be able to dislodge it with your foot, and the first impulse is to look down. Should a full water bottle or pressure-filled soda bottle lodge under the brake pedal, you won’t be able to stop the vehicle, leading to a crash. 

And on the off chance the vehicle has a manual transmission, the possibility of an accident increases even more. 

Distracted Driving

Most people think of distracted driving as paying more attention to a phone than the road, but that’s only part of the issue. 

No matter what the distraction, much can happen when you look away from what’s in front of you. Taking your eyes off the road for five seconds while driving 55 mph is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded. Whether you’re sipping your morning coffee, eating a breakfast sandwich, or sending a short text, an accident can happen quickly. 

A police officer may not pull you over if you’re spotted eating behind the wheel. But if you’re driving in an unsafe manner, such as running a stop sign or swerving, you’ll likely be pulled over. No matter what the cause, a distracted driving violation or accident can result in a ticket for reckless driving or “driving too fast for conditions.”  Chances are your insurance rates will also increase. 

Types of Distractions

The NHTSA also reports that there are three types of distractions

  • Manual, where the driver takes their hand or hands off the wheel for even a second
  • Visual, where the driver looks away and is focused on something other than the road 
  • Cognitive, when a driver’s concentration is elsewhere, and not focused on driving

Just one of these is enough to lead to a crash. Two or more mean that the driver is paying little or no attention to the road and other drivers around their car. 

Eating while driving can involve all three of these distractions: 

  • Removing food from the wrapping
  • Uncapping a bottle of water or soft drink
  • Unwrapping a straw to put into a cup container
  • Stirring cream and other condiments into coffee
  • Opening the lid or removing the small tab from the coffee cup lid (especially hot coffee)
  • Catching a spill or finding where something fell onto the seat or floor 
  • Looking for a napkin either in the bag or elsewhere in the vehicle

In all these scenarios, the person driving will have split attention between the windshield and the food or drink they’re consuming. A hot coffee spill is particularly dangerous since the heat can also cause burns to the driver. 

If you’re not fully focused on the road, reaction times are delayed and much slower. A driver may go through a red light or past a stop sign. Missing the brake lights of the vehicle in front can lead to a rear-end collision, or worse. 

Avoid Eating While Driving

We recommend not driving hungry to avoid the temptation of the drive-through window. Eat before you leave (even if it’s a snack) or when you arrive at work or another destination. Temptations (and drive-through windows) are everywhere in Los Angeles, so stopping for even a coffee is easy and takes just minutes. 

Unless you’re diligent about removing cups, bags, and other food-related trash from your car, the clutter can also lead to another mess. Forgotten clutter can include something rolling under the pedals. Food residue anywhere can also lead to insects getting into your car—such as ants that enjoy the taste of sugar and chocolate. 

While it’s easy to do, eating behind the wheel of a car is not the safest way to drive. Eat at home, at work, or if necessary, parked in the parking lot of the fast-food restaurant while stopped. Focusing on your driving without culinary distractions is one more way to avoid an accident and help keep Los Angeles’ roads safer. 

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