Is it Illegal to Eat and Drive? (2021 Update)
While it isn't illegal to eat and drive, you can still get into trouble if eating prevents you from having full control of your car. Read more here.
People lead busy lives, and it’s no surprise that one of the few times people can get down time is when they are driving in their car. It makes sense that people may use this time to eat. Whether it be a quick dinner or a mere snack, when you eat and drive you get into murky territory with the law.
This is especially relevant when one considers recent crackdowns on laws surrounding driving. The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol have become more severe in recent years, and drivers who are caught using their phones illegally can face large fines. If eating while driving also has the potential to be distracting, does this mean that it is technically illegal? In this article, we will find out.
The uncertain scope in Australia
Running late? Need to get to that 9am meeting? It is in situations like these that we grab food to go. This is something many of us are guilty of doing. To save time we even eat our food whilst driving. It’s convenient, quick and we never think twice about it.
While you might make it to that important meeting sustained from the egg and bacon roll you scoffed down on your car journey, have you ever considered whether or not it is actually legal to eat while driving? Unfortunately, the question of eating and driving falls in a legal grey area. We willl explain this further below.
Eating While Driving is not Technically Illegal
To put this into perspective, let us think about what actually happens when you eat behind the wheel. Firstly, eating requires you to use at least one hand, and road user’s handbooks state that drivers need to drive with both hands on the steering wheel.
People who are driving while eating have slower reaction times to fast changing traffic conditions. Similar to driving with a phone in one hand, being distracted is never good. Further, it can have serious consequences not only for you, but for others on the road.
There is no law that directly states you cannot eat while driving. This is why eating while driving is not technically illegal. The act of eating or drinking is relevant, however, to other rules of the road.
Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 297 states that a driver must not drive if they do not have complete control of the vehicle. Conduct such as eating or listening to music while driving can become distractions resulting in loss of control. When it comes to roadside offences, Police have wide discretionary powers. As a result, you want to make sure you are being safe if you want to avoid penalties.
Also, be aware that the road rules are not going to be the same in every state or territory. If you are unsure what the exact law is in your jurisdiction, have a look at the different legislation available.
Hazardous Foods and Drinks
If you are going to eat while driving, you need to make sure you do not lose control. Some foods are going to be easy to eat but others can often distract drivers from the road. If you want to keep control of your car, these are the foods you should avoid:
- Chocolate: Chocolate can be a massive distraction while driving. It is almost inevitable that it will end up everywhere and you will lose focus even just for a second to clean it up.
- Fried Chicken: If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you are already ahead on this one. To keep control of a car, you need to keep control of a wheel. Avoid getting your hands too greasy to maintain control.
- Coffee: Yes, coffee is not exactly a food but it is worth mentioning as it is one of the leading distractions for drivers. Although the caffeine gives a small energy boost, it can spill quite easily. If coffee spills in your car, your first reaction is probably to clean it up immediately. As a result, unless you have a strong willpower or low aversion to mess, coffee will be a big distraction while driving.
If you want to know more food that gets you into a sticky situation while driving, check out one of RMS’ articles.
Staying in control of your car and avoiding distractions has importance beyond simple adherence to the law. The purpose of these rules is to prevent an accident from actually occurring. Not only will a crash result in serious legal trouble, you can severely endanger lives including your own.
Distracted Driver Laws in review
We have established that it is not illegal on its own to eat while driving. However, as the issue of eating while driving becomes more common on the roads, road and transport authorities may consider creating specific laws to combat this.
Eating while driving will usually mean that you are not in proper control of your vehicle or driving with proper care. Police can issue fines and demerit points for this. So while you are not breaking any laws explicitly, you can still get into trouble. Due to the legal grey area this issue falls in, it may be worth getting in touch with a traffic lawyer if you ever find yourself in trouble for eating while driving.
Zac is a consultant at Lawpath, Australia’s largest and fastest growing online legal platform. Since joining Lawpath, Zac has assisted 1000s of startups and small business’s with their legal needs.