Is It Legal To Eat While Driving?

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Most drivers don't give a second thought to snacking behind the wheel. We have fast food drive-thrus all over the country, so it must be legal, right?

As it turns out, "eat-driving" might not be as safe - or as lawful - as you think.

Back in 2015, the Griffith Health Institute in Queensland studied the effects of eating while driving. They found that this widely adopted practice could be just as dangerous as texting while driving. No, really.

"The trials involving texting or eating when driving both caused about the same amount of decrement to driving performance", lead researcher on the project Dr Chris Irwin told SBS.

Now granted, this is just a single study. Unlike texting while driving, eating food does not require you to take your eyes off the road for extended periods of time (unless you have terrible eye-hand coordination, that is.)

Personally, we think text-driving is almost certainly more dangerous than eat-driving, but that doesn't mean the latter is completely safe. It can't be denied that vehicles are harder to control during one-handed operation - especially if your other hand is holding a sloppy burger and cannot easily be returned to the wheel.

So what does the law have to say? Can motorists be booked for indulging in a Big Mac on-the-go? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes. Kind of.

While there are currently no laws in Australia that specifically prohibit eating food while driving, you can still fall afoul of the law by failing to adhere to Australian Road Rules 297(1). This states that "a driver must not drive a vehicle unless the driver has proper control of the vehicle".

As explained on the NRMA blog, these types of offences are assessed on a case by case basis. For example, eating behind the wheel in NSW can result in a $433 fine and three demerit points if police deem you to be driving dangerously or erratically. (Naturally, additional offences may apply in the event of an accident.)

So there you have it: though uncommon, police can decide to fine you for eat-driving - even if no specific road rules have been broken. All it takes is a hangry cop to glance in your car window.


Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


Comments

    For example, eating behind the wheel in NSW can result in a $433 fine and three demerit points if police deem you to be driving dangerously or erratically.
    So there you have it: though uncommon, police can decide to fine you for eat-driving - even if no specific road rules have been broken.

    These two sentences contradict each other.

    First you say they can fine you for breaking road rules (driving dangerously or erratically certainly qualifies as breaking road rules) then you say they can fine you for not breaking road rules.

    If you're not breaking road rules in the first place then the police have no reason to pull you over. IF they pull you over for driving dangerously or erratically, and notice you've been eating while driving, then yeah, they might possibly fine you. But they are not going to pull you over and fine you just for eating. They can't - there are no laws against it. Sure, if they wanted to be dicks, they might pull you over saying "we noticed you driving a bit dangerously back there" even if you weren't, and fine you because of that...but I think that scenario is highly unlikely.

    In short, don't drive like an idiot and you've got nothing to worry about.

    Of course...yes you can be temporarily distracted if you're eating while driving ("where did that chip fall to?" or "ah crap the lettuce in my burger just fell on my lap" etc) and driving with one hand holding food is clearly less safe than having 2 free hands, so obviously where possible you probably *shouldn't* be eating while driving just to be on the safe side.

    By the way the NRMA blog you linked to doesn't exist anymore, it just redirects you to their news and media centre.

      So, what's actually going to happen if you eat while driving and get pulled over is this:

      You can be charged with not having full and proper control of your vehicle, or potentially negligent driving.

      If you don't have two hands on the wheel, are deemed to be distracted by food or are driving erratically you are deemed 'not to be in full and complete control of your vehicle'.

      This is exactly what people have been charged with so far. It's a fair thing to charge people with as, accurately stated prior by yourself, there's no specific law regarding the consumption of food in a vehicle. However, there have been numerous studies that show eating while driving is not quite as distracting as using your mobile phone but it's getting up there when you consider food in the vicinity of fast food (burgers, softdrinks, chips etc. After all, try eating a double breast KFC burger while driving... I did and promptly put it down. Ye gods what a nightmare.)

      I mean I'm not saying I haven't eaten while driving, of course I have. I'm just saying that's what they tend to actually charge people with that's all :)

      Here's a little tidbit worth reading: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/eating-while-driving-is-more-dangerous-than-you-thought

        I think eating while driving should be a common sense thing too. Eating something that's easily controlled (eg: a sausage roll or a small maccas cheeseburger) is a lot different to trying to eat some thing large and ungainly (eg; a big mac or a KFC 3 piece feed with potato and gravy).

        If it's something that you can eat comfortably while walking then I'd feel ok about eating it while driving. If not then stop and eat while parked. And I'd add that it should be something you won't be too upset about if you drop it on a seat/your lap if you have to.

        It's also about context, eating a burger on a long straight road with very few turns or speed changes is also a hell of a lot different to eating a burger in suburbia. Since you're more likely to need more attention to other vehicles, use both hands to steer, changes gears etc.

        I'd also suggest that if the cops are wanting to book you they WILL find something. It's almost impossible to have both a perfect vehicle and perfect driving. Even if it's a brand new car and you're the most conscientious driver. So this makes the argument about eating in the car double edged - don't do it because it gives the cops another way to "get you", and what the hell, they're gonna get you anyway so you might as well enjoy your snack.

          While I get what you're saying, context is one of those things that's far too easy to exploit in this situation. "Officer, but the road is 'long enough!' for a burger!" "Please define long enough sir." "50 meters." "But the road was 49?"

          In this case, it's best to just outright ban eating of ungainly items. If we're talking small stuff, like chewing gum etc, common sense says they arent distracting, but if it takes your whole hand to navigate the item, such as a softdrink, burger etc, then of course. As you say, common sense.

            When I said long I was actually thinking more like several KM. Like driving down the highway. But yeah, it's still a valid point.

            I think a single hand to manage a food/drink item is fine. After all we regularly take a hand off the wheel to change gears or indicate or other legal driving related movements. And considering a lot of vehicles have power steering it's a lot less important to have both hands on the wheel than the good old days where brute force was required for even small manoeuvres.

            When I say one hand, I also mean it's not occupied the WHOLE time your eating. Like pick up a fry and pop it in your mouth or taking a bite from a burger and putting it down is ok. But clinging to the burger for five minutes while you eat it is getting dangerous.

            Once you get to two hands, whether it's because you need them to control the food, or to unwrap it or whatever it's definitely not on.

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