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How Dangerous is Eating While Driving?

By on July 1, 2017

4 Seconds at 55 mph Covers MORE THAN 320 FEET

By: David A. Kolman, Senior Editor

When reading this article, make sure you’re stopped. CLOSE YOUR EYES. COUNT off four seconds, 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004. At 55 mph, how far would you have just traveled in those four seconds? Answer 323 feet—more than four times as wide as a typical city lot—with your eyes closed.

Now think about your typical day. Do you ever feel as though your mileage is falling short of projections? In an effort to save time or make up some miles, have you ever rationalized that eating while driving is okay? Everyone does it, right?

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts your attention from the task of safe driving. We all know that includes texting or even talking on your phone, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system, and any other non-driving activity that you engage in while behind the wheel. News flash: eating and drinking can be even more dangerous.

How dangerous are these distractions? According to the latest statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in 2015 motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. NHTSA Research found that eating and driving increase the likelihood of an accident by 80%. In addition, the research concluded that 65% of near-miss accidents are caused by drivers distracted by eating and drinking.

As million-mile drivers know, you can’t drive safely unless the task of driving has your complete, undivided attention.

Complacency Danger

Truck drivers spend so much time behind the wheel that complacency can easily set in. “What’s the big deal about eating and drinking,” you say? Eating on the fly helps make up lost time or log a few more miles. It is, in fact, a big deal because eating and drinking while driving diverts your attention from the all-important task of safe driving. Clearly, this lack of focus increases the likelihood of accidents. Inattention inhibits your ability to react to what is going on ahead and around you.

Eating while driving is a particularly dangerous activity because it often incorporates a combination of distractions. For example, drivers unwrap food packaging, use napkins, hold the food with at least one hand, apply condiments, wipe up a spill, etc., while operating an 80,000-pound vehicle covering more than 80 feet per second.

Lack of Judgment

As if “dashboard dining” isn’t already dangerous enough, I’m amazed at the utter lack of common sense shown by some drivers in their choice of foods to eat behind the wheel.

As reported in studies by NTHSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the online auto insurance agency,
Insurance.com, compiled a list of the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving. Based on their distraction potential, they are:

1. Coffee. Even with a travel lid, hot coffee can find its way out of the opening when you hit a bump or pothole, turn sharply, or brake aggressively. Coffee is hazardous itself because it is hot.

2. Hot Soup. Creates the same risks as coffee.

3. Tacos. They disassemble themselves without much help. Bumps and swerves quickly compound the mess.

4. Chili Dogs. They have a huge potential for drips and slops down the front of clothing and onto the steering wheel, seat and floor.

5. Hamburgers. It doesn’t take much for the grease, toppings and fixings to end up on your hands, your clothes, the steering wheel, armrest, shifter, etc. Greasy foods make hands slippery, and that gives you less control over the steering wheel.

6. Barbecued Foods. Barbecue sauce may be delicious, but it drips. Licking your fingers further compounds this distraction.

7. Fried Chicken. This is another food that leaves you with greasy hands, and much like hamburgers, grease spreads over everything.

8. Powdered, Jelly- or Cream-Filled Doughnuts. It’s almost impossible to eat one of these taste tempters without having the center ooze out. Ever had “powdered donut dust” on your face, hands and everywhere else?

9. Carbonated Drinks. Not only are they subject to spills, but they can also fizz as you’re drinking them if you make sudden movements.

10. Chocolate. Like greasy foods, chocolate can coat your fingers as it melts against the warmth of your skin, leaving its mark anywhere you touch.

Heightened Risk

Eating while driving is not only dangerous, it’s messy, and that means you’re not watching the road. Splashes of liquids and dropped bits of food and crumbs trigger our instinctive reaction to clean up the mess immediately, which is only doubling down on a bad idea.

Doing so diverts your focus from safe driving. That, in turn, can make you miss an unexpected occurrence up ahead, not see objects and cues, or lose control of your vehicle—all potentially leading to a crash. In addition to putting themselves and their equipment at risk, distracted drivers put everyone else on the road at risk.

You might save a little time by eating and driving, but is that really worth putting yourself and others in danger? I think not. If you think so, please have a chat with your safety director or take a good look in the mirror. Eating and driving don’t mix under any circumstances, period, end of discussion.

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One Comment

  1. Eugene Williams

    June 15, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Great Article. Most 4 wheelers will argue with you if you point out the distance traveled in a few short seconds. This article mentions 55 MPH change that to 75 MPH and the window closes in the blink of an eye

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