Is It Illegal to Eat While Driving in California?

Whenever you’re driving, the focus should always be on staying safe. You cannot allow anything to divert your attention from the road, which is why eating while driving is considered a big no-no.

Driving while trying to eat is a bad idea, but is it a violation of the law? That’s one of the questions we’ll be answering in this article. Learn more about the potential ramifications of your choice to eat while driving by reading on.

Why Eating while Driving Is Dangerous

Before we get into the legality of dining while you drive, we must understand how risky that activity can be. It all goes back to the concept of distracted driving.

You’ve probably heard of that before, but let’s get deeper into it.

There are three types of distractions that you may face while driving. Per the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the three types of distractions are visual, manual, and cognitive.

Visual distractions are obvious. Maybe it’s your phone lighting up because of a new text message, or it could also be something interesting you saw along the side of the road. Those visual distractions are quite plentiful, and they’re hard to avoid.

Manual distractions are the ones that cause you to take your hands off the steering wheel. This could be something like fumbling around with your phone or grabbing something from the glove compartment.

Cognitive distractions are pretty broad in scope. You can argue that both the visual and manual distractions also count as cognitive distractions. Being tired or stressed can out also affect your mind. Because of that, you can consider fatigue and stress to be cognitive distractions.

Now think of what eating while driving does to you.

It’s an activity that can take your eyes off the road because you need to see what you’re putting on your fork or where you’re biting. You may also have to remove at least one of your hands from the steering wheel to put the food in your mouth. Focusing on the bite of food instead of the road is also a cognitive distraction.

Eating while driving can be considered a major distraction in three different ways. It should go without saying that you must avoid it as much as possible.

How Risky Is Eating while Driving?

A few numbers should help us better understand why mealtime should be separate from your daily commute.

A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute notes that 80 percent of vehicle collisions are due to being distracted in some way. On top of that, 65 percent of near vehicle collisions are due to being distracted also.

The risk level associated to distracted driving cannot be overstated. It is an activity you should not attempt.

It is also worth pointing out that eating is among the leading causes of distracted driving, according to that study.

Being involved in a car accident can be a life-altering experience. The injuries you sustain from it could affect you for the rest of your life. You may also have a hard time replacing your damaged vehicle and making payments to the people involved in the crash.

If things truly take a turn for the worse, someone in your vehicle or in the vehicle you hit could die from their injuries.

Are You Breaking the Law if You’re Eating while Driving?

The potential ramifications of distracted driving should be more than enough to discourage you from ever engaging in that activity again. But what does the law say about the matter?

One may assume that a law is already in place to discourage eating while driving, but there isn’t one.

Does this mean that drivers in California can eat inside their cars without being afraid of any potential consequences? That’s not necessarily the case either.

Eating while driving can cause you to violate other laws. One specific violation you are likely to commit is reckless driving.

What Is Reckless Driving and How Does It Relate to Eating while Driving?

According to California law, “A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.” Reckless driving can also occur inside parking facilities.

Generally speaking, speeding, disregarding stoplights, and driving under the influence can be considered as examples of reckless driving. There are more examples, but you get the idea. If you’re careless behind the wheel, you could be found guilty of violating that law.

However, eating while driving does not automatically qualify as reckless driving. There’s a significant amount of gray area that must be parsed through first before a clear determination can be made.

A police officer could spot you eating behind the wheel but decide not to cite you for a violation. In that case, the police officer has likely determined that you are still in complete control of your vehicle and not posing a threat to anyone on the road.

Now, if a police officer spots you eating and making some mistakes while driving, the chances of you being cited for a violation increase significantly.

What Is the Punishment for Reckless Driving?

The punishment for a reckless driving violation can involve both a fine and jail time.

The fine assessed cannot be any lower than $145, and it also cannot exceed $1000. Meanwhile, the jail sentence handed down could be as short as five days or be as long as 90 days. Note that you may get a fine and jail time due to reckless driving.

It’s also important to remember that they may charge you with other violations because of your actions. If you injure someone due to your negligence, reckless driving may not be the most serious charge you face.

Other Ways Eating while Driving Could Get You in Trouble

We’ve already established that eating while driving can be dangerous to you and the people you’re sharing the road with. It can also pose a threat to property.

Dining while driving can also lead to an instance of reckless driving and a subsequent violation of California law.

Those aren’t the only reasons why you should avoid eating while trying to control your car. Let’s talk more about other reasons why eating while driving is a bad idea.

Food Can Be Used as Evidence in Car Crash Investigations

In some cases, food found inside your vehicle could be the reason why you lose a case.

When investigating the site of an accident, law enforcement officials will gather evidence. They will look for pieces of physical evidence, including electronics and other items that could have distracted a driver enough to cause the crash.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, food and drinks can be pieces of non-electronic physical evidence that could serve as distractions to the driver of a vehicle. What that means is that law enforcement officials could point to the presence of food in the driver’s seat as evidence that you were distracted when the collision occurred.

The presence of food could be a big strike against you in a case where there is doubt regarding who was responsible for the car accident. It’s one more reason why you should consume food while near a dining table instead of a dashboard.

You May Feel Dizzy After Eating

For many people, feeling lightheaded while they’re hungry is normal. They grab a quick bite, and that unpleasant feeling goes away.

Interestingly enough, though, feeling lightheaded is something some people worry about after they eat.

When you’re digesting food, more blood reroutes to your stomach and small intestine to help complete the process. Your heart will work harder to offset the rerouting of the blood. As a result of your heart working more, the rest of your body will continue to receive enough blood even as you’re digesting food, per Harvard Health.

However, that process may not go smoothly for other people. During digestion, the heart may not beat faster to supply enough blood to the rest of the body. That’s a condition known as postprandial hypotension, and it’s also the reason why some people feel lightheaded or dizzy after eating.

You’ve probably already guessed why feeling dizzy after eating is bad news if you also happen to be driving.

There are ways to minimize the impact that postprandial hypotension can have on you. Eating smaller meals and drinking more water should mitigate the condition somewhat. Still, if you know there’s a risk that you will feel dizzy after eating, it’s best to eat first and rest before heading out on your drive.

How to Manage Your Hunger while Driving

Consuming food behind the wheel of a moving car is not a good idea for the many reasons we’ve listed in this article. Unfortunately, we cannot always predict when we’ll feel those hunger pangs.

So, what can you do to minimize the chances of hunger impairing your driving? Detailed below are some of the things you should do.

Don’t Ignore Your Hunger

Since eating while you’re driving is a no-no, should you ignore your hunger until you reach your destination? Nope, that’s not a good idea either.

People who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes are greatly impacted by hunger. If their blood sugar level falls to a certain level, they may start to feel lightheaded and weak. According to The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, those symptoms are signals your body is sending out to indicate that you need to eat.

You cannot continue driving if you’re experiencing lightheadedness caused by hunger. Eat up first and rest before you continue your drive.

The truth is that being hungry while driving can still be bad even if you don’t have diabetes. Hunger pangs can make a person uncomfortable. That pain radiating from your stomach can be impossible to ignore, and it may cause you to lose concentration at a crucial moment.

Once again, spare some time to eat something and rest before you resume driving to stay safe.

Ask Someone Else to Drive

Stopping to grab some food and rest is not always an option, especially if you’re in the middle of a long trip. There may be times when hunger strikes while you’re on a stretch of road with no rest stops in sight.

In a situation such as that, you can ask someone else to take over the driving responsibilities for you, at least for a while. Switch with one of your passengers and use that time to eat and rest. That way, you’ll replenish your energy without endangering yourself or anyone else in the car.

Choose Healthy Foods

You don’t need to wait until you feel hungry to protect against how it could impact your driving. When you get the chance to sit down for a meal, make sure to pick out some healthy options. Doing that is especially important if you’re planning to go for a long drive.

Eating something is better than nothing, but certain types of food will provide you with more energy. They can sustain you longer, meaning you won’t be tempted to eat while driving.

If you’re planning a long drive, make it a point to eat items such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains because they will nourish you better.

Eat before You Drive

Lastly, remember to eat before you get in your car. Turn eating breakfast at home into a habit and avoid eating in your car altogether. You may need to wake up earlier to ensure you have time for breakfast, but that beats getting involved in an accident because you were eating while driving.

Were you involved in an accident caused by someone who was eating while driving? Allow us at the Quirk Law Group to help you out and ensure you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today and find out how we can be of service.