Is it Illegal to Eat and Drive? (2020 Update)
Whilst 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 then, 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, and drivers who are caught using their phones can lose their license on the spot. If eating whilst driving also has the potential to be distracting, does this mean that it’s technically illegal? In this article, we’ll 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.
Whilst 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 whilst driving? Unfortunately, the question of eating and driving falls in a legal grey area. We’ll explain this further below.
It’s not an issue of illegality (yet)
To put this into perspective, let’s 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 whilst 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 us, but for others on the road.
Concerns aside, it is not actually illegal in Australia to eat whilst driving. However, it’s easy to see how you an indirectly be breaking the law by doing this – whether it’s driving one-handed or driving with something obstructing the path between you and the steering wheel (food, a book, your phone etc.)
Under the Australian Road Rules 2008, Rule 297, a driver must not drive if they do not have complete control of the vehicle. Conduct such as eating whilst driving can therefore be a factor when looking at issues of control.
Distracted Driver Laws in review
We’ve established that’s it’s not illegal on it’s own to eat whilst driving. However, as the issue of eating whilst driving becomes more common on the roads, road and transport authorities may consider creating specific laws to combat this. To date however, they have only gone as far as to create targeted campaigns.
Eating while driving will usually mean that you’re not in proper control of your vehicle or driving with proper care. Police can issue fines and demerit points for this. So whilst you’re 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 whilst 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.