Millions of people drive on our roads each and every day and a significant percentage of those people eat or drink while driving in their cars. As a result of people’s busy lives, it may seem that sometimes eating in cars while driving is unavoidable, but is this safe? And is it even legal?
A recent study looked at how distracting it can be for a driver to be eating food while driving a car. You might be surprised to find out that the study revealed that eating while driving at the same time was equally as distracting as texting while driving!
While it may seem harmless to many people, anything that takes your hands off the car steering wheel or your eyes off the road can make driving more dangerous than it already is. So NOT eating while driving is definitely safer than eating while driving.
But the question most people want answered – is it actually illegal to eat while driving?
You might be happy to know that currently, eating your meal or drinking a coffee in the car while driving will not mean that you are breaking the law. At present, there is no law in any Australian state or territory that specifically prohibits you from eating or drinking a cup of coffee while driving. However, what if you cause an accident from drinking your favourite cup of coffee or eating fast food while you were driving?
Whilst the law may not specifically prohibit you from eating while driving, you can still be charged with dangerous or careless driving where, because of eating a delicious chicken wing or drinking your favourite bottle of fizzy soft drink while driving, your attention was distracted from the road contributing to the accident because you failed to exercise the kind of care and attention a reasonable careful driver would have exercised under normal circumstances.
The laws differ in every state in Australia but in Western Australia, there is already precedent for WA Police to lay charges for eating while driving even though there’s no specific WA law against it. The precedent was set when in April 2018, a Perth woman got a $300 fine and a 3 demerit point penalty for eating her cereal behind the wheel. The woman was caught out when another motorist took a photograph of her eating cereal with one hand holding the bowl of cereal and another hand holding a spoon. From the photo, it looked like the woman was actually steering the car with her knees on the steering wheel! The official charge against the Perth woman was driving without due care and attention. So yes, in some cases it is in fact illegal to eat while driving in WA.
In WA, careless driving — which could include being distracted by eating your favourite foods will currently attract a 3 demerit points penalty and a maximum fine of $600 whilst the more serious charge of dangerous driving can carry a maximum penalty of $3,000 and 6 demerit points!
You might be surprised that another common dangerous act that many people do whilst driving and not realising that it may be dangerous, is driving while wearing flip-flops (slippers)! Wearing flip-flops while driving means you run the risk of them getting caught under the foot pedals and preventing you from either breaking or accelerating. So, if you are driving dangerously or carelessly because of your flip-flops, then you might possibly be charged by the Police.
While it isn’t technically illegal to eat and drive, or even to wear flip-flops while driving, it could still cost you a substantial fine as well as incurring demerit points if it is deemed that you do not have full control of the car while doing so.
In addition, if you are deemed to have been driving recklessly or engaging in risky behaviour behind the wheel and you are in an accident, you may not be able to claim for the damages from your insurance. Most comprehensive car insurance policies do not cover damage that has been caused by illegal activities such as texting and driving.
Whilst it is not currently an offence to consume food or drink a simple cup of coffee while driving, it may compromise your ability to make decisions and drive a car at an appropriate standard. Problems may clearly arise where this contributes to an accident on the road. So rather than risk it for that favourite cup of coffee in the morning or digging into that delicious burger and chips during lunch hour traffic, please eat when you are NOT driving and stay safe on our roads!