Studies Show Eating & Drinking While Driving May Be A Greater Distraction Than Cell Phones


August 22, 2011

Cell phone-related distracted driving is a leading cause of Atlanta distracted driving car accidents. While the increasing prevalence of electronic devices are certainly a leading cause of serious car accidents in Georgia, other driver distractions also interfere with safe driving, including eating and drinking while driving.

Because drive-thru restaurants are so common, it is not surprising that eating and drinking while driving contributes to Atlanta auto crashes. Some fast food chains even package the food so that drivers can eat the food in their car. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that eating or drinking while driving causes 80 percent of car accidents. The study also reveals that 65 percent of near misses are also related to eating while driving.

These surprising study results indicate that distracted driving related to eating and drinking is a factor in more accidents than DUI, cell phone use or texting while driving. A separate study conducted by ExxonMobil Corp of a thousand drivers found that 70 percent of drivers eat while driving and 83 percent drink beverages while driving. It is highly predictable that the many people who patronize fast food and Starbucks drive-thrus will consume beverages and food in their vehicle. Some fast food chains even specially package the food to be eaten in one’s vehicle. Another study was conducted by SmartDrive Systems, an organization that promotes safety training and research. The organization compiled and accumulated data from more than 34 million high-risk driving incidents. This study revealed that eating and drinking is a more serious auto accident risk than using a cell phone when driving.

Eating and drinking in one’s car poses a visual, physical and mental distraction. A driver will often avert one’s vision from the road when unwrapping food or trying to prevent food from spilling and making a mess in one’s vehicle. Eating and drinking can provide a physical distraction which can result in a car accident when trying to unwrap or hold the item while consuming the food or beverage. This means that a driver’s hands do not both remain on the steering wheel. A driver may also be mentally distracted when driving while negotiating the packaging to prepare the food to be eaten in the car and avoid spillage. Driving distractions that simultaneously interfere with a driver’s attention visually, physically and mentally pose the most serious Atlanta distracted driving hazards.

There are types of foods and beverages that are more problematic than others including the following:

  • Hot Liquids: Hot coffee, tea and soups may pose the most serious distracted driving risk. Hot liquids like beverages or soup can spill scalding a driver. A beverage that spills and scalds one’s lap can obviously be a serious distraction while driving. Even drivers that are not scalded may be overly concerned about staining or otherwise damaging their car interior and try absorbing the liquid or cleaning up the mess while the vehicle is moving.
  • Greasy or salty finger foods: Finger foods that are greasy or salty like popcorn and french fries can create a hazard where the driver is searching the vehicle for something to clean one’s hands. This results in the driver’s hands coming off the wheel, eyes leaving the road and mind concentrating on identifying something to clean one’s hands rather than focusing on the road. The grease also can make the steering wheel slippery.
  • Hot and messy foods: This would include food items like pizza and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. These types of food items can result in hot cheese or grease falling in one’s lap resulting in a burn. The spill also may result in a slimy, gooey mess that will distract the driver who may feel the need to clean up the mess immediately. Stephanie Schwartz, a driving instructor and the owner of Roadrunner Traffic School in Phoenix states that "an alert driver needs 1.5 seconds to react to something that happens while they are driving. A distracted driver who is splitting attention between eating and driving needs three seconds -- twice that much time to react."
  • Beverages that lack straws: These drinks require use of hand, eyes and mental concentration to open and/or close the drink. They also pose a spill risk, which means that a driver may focus on cleaning up a potential spill. A sudden stop while drinking can also result in a driver choking if the liquid goes down the wrong pipe.
  • Food items that easily fall apart: There are many food items that are hard to keep from falling apart like sub sandwiches, burritos and big, messy, loaded burgers. These foods require a high level of concentration to manipulate so that they do not fall apart while you are driving. Like other high-risk foods, they may make a mess spilling condiments, grease and other items tempting a driver to clean the mess while driving.

The bottom line is that a driver who eats or drinks while driving poses an unreasonable risk of causing a serious Atlanta motor vehicle accident. Most drivers openly acknowledge the risk of using a cell phone while driving but have no idea that drivers who consume food and beverages pose an even more serious risk of causing an Atlanta distracted driving accident. If you or someone you love is injured or suffer wrongful death in a Georgia distracted driving accident, you or your loved one may be entitled to compensation for any injuries or loss. The experienced Atlanta distracted driving attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing distracted driving victims throughout Georgia for 27 years.

Our Atlanta car wreck lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

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