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Eating and Drinking in the Car: Distracted Driving Dangers

distracted driving

A big push to reduce distracted driving has raised awareness among drivers about the dangers of using mobile phones behind the wheel. But texting and dialing aren’t the only ways that drivers lose focus on the road. Eating and drinking in the car are also significant distractions that can get in the way of safe, attentive driving. Most of us are guilty of it, and our cars and trucks even encourage us to bring along a drink to fit in that handy cup holder.

But think twice before you do. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), eating and drinking are common driver distractions, just like texting, grooming, reading or watching a video. By taking a driver’s attention away from operating the vehicle, eating and drinking in the car endangers the driver, his or her passengers and others, including pedestrians and people in other vehicles.

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Drive-in restaurants aren’t too common anymore, but maybe they should be. Not only did I avoid distracted driving, but stopping for a few minutes gave me time to really enjoy these crispy onion rings and a cold drink.

In many locales, laws against texting or talking on a handheld mobile phone remind drivers of the dangers and discourage the practice. But eating and drinking – provided the beverage is not alcoholic – is neither unlawful nor frowned upon. That means drivers may not even know of the dangers. In fact, many of us – your NAPA blogger included – are guilty of the most dangerous eating and drinking distractions.

Take that morning cup of coffee, for example. Hagerty, an insurer specializing in coverage of classic vehicles, ranked the coffee as the worst offender on its list of the ten most dangerous foods to eat while driving. Coffee is hot. It can splash or spill. It can also stain clothes and upholstery, which can be particularly inconvenient at the start of the workday. Hagerty says drivers will often try to clean up a spill while on the move, a decision that can be dangerous for obvious reasons.Coffee may be the worst offender, but it’s by no means the only food-and-drink distraction drivers should avoid. Messy foods like a juicy burger, a sloppy barbeque sandwich or greasy fried chicken make the list, too. And tacos can fall apart and spill ingredients everywhere.

Hot beverages like coffee can be dangerous in a moving car, so it's better to have a cup before heading out on that morning commute.
Hot beverages like coffee can be dangerous in a moving car, so it’s better to have a cup before heading out on that morning commute.

While I am guilty of drinking coffee in the car, I’ve long observed a “no eating” rule in my vehicles. Historically, the rule aimed to keep french fries from falling between the seats, not to avoid driver distraction. But with 3,328 people killed and another 421,000 injured in traffic accidents related to distracted driving in 2012, it’s time for all of us to update our rules. Take a break next time you need a snack or refreshment. Stopping for a few minutes certainly beats a fender bender or, worse, a serious crash.

Have you ever been in a crash – or had a near miss – while eating or drinking in the car? What kind of food or drink stole your attention? Let us know in the comments below.

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Nick Palermo View All

Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.

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