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Dining and driving: A hidden distraction

Distracted driving seems to be the problem that simply will not go away. Law enforcement agencies, transportation departments and insurance carriers have all developed numerous media campaigns to highlight the dangers that distracted drivers pose. Unfortunately, some habits are so commonplace that drivers do not consider them distracting – even though they are.

“Dining and driving” has developed into an expectation when individuals get behind the wheel. Whether it is a travel mug of coffee on the way to an early class or a drive-thru dinner on the way home from a late shift at work, drivers who eat or drink are allowing themselves to be distracted from their primary task.

Why is it distracting?

It is likely that drivers are so used to taking a sip from a water bottle or selecting a snack from a bag in the passenger seat that it has become second nature. Unfortunately, any action that takes a driver’s attention from the road can be a deadly distraction. Looking down to select your next cookie or leaning your head back to get the last mouthful of coffee can take both a hand off the steering wheel and the eyes off the road.  The loss of control and loss of focus for even a few seconds can lead to catastrophic collisions.

Are some foods more dangerous than others?

While this might at first seem like an absurd question, numerous studies have investigated dining and driving. Foods that top the at-risk list are obvious upon retrospect.

  • Chocolate, due to its messy, melting nature.
  • Jelly or cream-filled doughnuts, because they can spill and cause the driver to look down to clean up the mess.
  • Fried chicken, because the grease might get all over the hands, steering wheel and other control surfaces.
  • Soup, because it often requires the driver to hold the cup or bowl to his or her face which can be both a visual distraction as well as a manual one.

The list is extensive. Officials have done a nice job limiting the use of hand-held electronics while driving by instituting penalties including fines and other consequences. Unfortunately, dining and driving has yet to be addressed in any consistent way.

Distracted drivers can cause devastating collisions with catastrophic injuries. Whether they drift into oncoming lanes, fail to recognize stopped traffic or miss an intersection’s safety signals, these drivers can demolish other vehicles.