Recently a motorist from Alabama was pulled over in Marietta, Georgia, near Atlanta. Confused, since he was pretty sure he hadn’t been breaking any laws, the man was soon surprised to discover that he was being ticketed for “eating while driving.” “Maybe I was enjoying the burger too much, I needed to tone it down,” he told news media. “I was certainly willing to do so but I didn’t expect to be fined or punished.”

That double quarter-pounder with cheese could wind up breaking the budget, but the munching man says he intends to fight the ticket in court when it comes up in February.

Is DWI (driving while ingesting) against the law?

It could be, depending on the wording of a state’s distracted driving statute. In Georgia, the law is vaguely phrased” “A driver shall exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state and shall not engage in any actions which shall distract such driver from the safe operation of such vehicle.” Maryland’s law specifically prohibits the use of a handheld phone or texting while driving but does not mention or imply any other distracting activities.

The fact is, there are a number of behaviors that could take a driver’s attention away from the road just long enough to cause an accident: applying makeup, consulting a GPS, arguing with passengers, and eating and drinking. Although the case of the Georgia burger bust may cause us to smile or roll our eyes, distracted driving is not funny. In 2012, distraction contributed to the death of 3,328 people in the U.S. An estimated 421,000 people were injured in wrecks involving a distracted driver.

Know the Risks – Not Just the Calorie Count!

Lytx Data is a company which focuses on driving safety innovations. Last year they released a study showing that eating or drinking while driving is almost as dangerous as texting or using a cellphone when behind the wheel. They found that a person trying to eat or drink while driving is 3.6 times more likely to be in a collision than someone who is not, compared to a 4.6 risk magnification for using a hands-free phone or 4.7 for a smartphone or tablet.

Similarly, another study, from the Transport Research Laboratory of Britain’s Leeds University, found that the reaction times of snacking drivers is 44 percent slower; texting drivers were found to have a 37 percent slower reaction time. Even sipping a non-alcoholic beverage causes some reduced ability to maintain control: those wetting their whistle while driving had 22 percent slower reactions and were 18 percent more likely to experience poor lane control.

Ten Most Dangerous Foods To Eat While Driving

Hagerty Insurance has compiled a list of the “Ten Most Dangerous Foods To Eat While Driving,” ranked according to the degree of distraction they could cause, the degree of difficulty in eating with only one hand on the wheel, and the food’s popularity. Here they are, ranked from least distracting to most distracting:

10. Chocolate, because it makes for greasy fingerprints just asking to be immediately wiped off.

9. Soft drinks, especially in an open container, because they can spill.

8. Jelly and cream-filled donuts, because they’re ooey gooey.

7. Fried chicken. There’s a reason they say it’s finger-lickin’ good.

6. Barbecued food, dripping with sweet, sticky sauce.

5. Hamburgers. Those all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions could wind up in your lap instead of between the sesame seed buns.

4. Chili, on top of anything.

3. Tacos. As Hagerty put it, “One good road bump and the seat of your car looks like a salad bar.”

2. Hot soup. Not possible to eat this using only one hand.

1. Coffee. Sorry, morning commuters, the cuppa joe could be your downfall instead of your wakeup. More food-related accidents happen in the morning hours than in the evening because drivers are concerned about their wardrobe and tend to instantly fish around for a napkin or tissue to make a quick clean-up, forgetting about all the other people trying to get to work safely.

It’s easy to think of distracted driving only in terms of cell phones and texting. Next time you head for the drive-through, give some extra thought to how you’re going to balance your need for food and drink with your duty to be a safe driver. If you or your loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, call the Baltimore Law Offices of Steven Heisler at (410) 625-4878. Justice is the #1 item on our carry-out menu.