A messy sandwich can lead to a messy road situation when a motorist’s attention strays from the road to drips, smears, or crumbs. Those who eat while they drive cause 80 percent of all car accidents and 65 percent of near misses, according to data compiled by the NHTSA.

Research Finds Eating Is as Dangerous as Texting While Driving, Leads to Increase Risk of Auto Accident

It is a well-known and widely accepted fact that texting while driving is dangerous. However, many people think that eating behind the wheel is permissible since most have wolfed down a quick breakfast or lunch while driving at one time or another.

But this example illustrates why eating while driving seriously reduces a driver’s ability to react to road conditions.

In 2014, an Albuquerque city bus crashed into the car stopped immediately in front of it, causing a multi-car pileup involving three vehicles. At first, it was believed that the bus driver was texting while driving. But a video released after the crash showed that the driver was eating a burrito moments before the crash; as he put the burrito down, he took his eyes off the road (and both hands off the wheel) and failed to notice the cars stopped directly in front of him.

Eating while driving is one of the most common types of distracted driving, and research has shown that eating behind the wheel can significantly increase the risk of being involved in a car accident.

  • Those who eat while they drive cause 80 percent of all car accidents and 65 percent of near misses, according to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • A 2015 study published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention found that eating behind the wheel reduced driving performance almost as much as texting while driving does. Although study participants seemed to believe that texting while driving would have more effect on their lane-position control and reaction time, similar levels of impairment were observed in those eating while driving.
  • In an Exxon Mobil survey of 1,000 drivers, 70 percent of the participants admitted to eating while driving, and 83 percent said they routinely drink nonalcoholic beverages such as coffee or soda while behind the wheel.

Like other forms of distraction, eating while driving impairs a driver’s ability to avoid accidents in three ways:

  • Visually, when they take their eyes off the road to perform a task other than driving.
  • Manually, when they remove their hands from the wheel to text or take a bite of food, for example.
  • Cognitively, when a driver’s mind wanders to focus on activities other than operating the vehicle.

Although each of these distractions can be deadly on its own, when they are combined they pose an even greater safety risk. Because eating while driving involves at least one (and often more) of these forms of distraction, it becomes especially dangerous, particularly when food or beverages are spilled or dropped.

According to the NHTSA, the 10 most dangerous types of foods to eat while driving include:

  • Chocolate
  • Soda
  • Filled or powdered donuts
  • Fried chicken
  • Barbecue
  • Burgers
  • Anything containing chili
  • Tacos
  • Soup
  • Coffee.

Avoiding eating these foods while driving can dramatically reduce the risk for a serious or even fatal automobile accident. If you must eat while on a long road trip, consider pulling over to eat. After all, is saving a little time eating while driving really worth endangering your life or the lives of others?

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