Most drivers don’t give a second thought to snacking behind the wheel. We have fast food drive-thrus on every highway, 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 hand-to-mouth 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.