[Content Updated April 8, 2021] The answer to the above question is yes and no. Whether eating and driving are illegal depends upon the given circumstances. But one thing remains certain, eating and driving are unsafe, and drivers should avoid this dangerous activity.
Michael Ehline has a lot to say about eating, drinking, and driving distracted. For one, our distracted driving accident attorneys have given many free case evaluations to people denied coverage by insurance companies. No criminal statute exists forbidding eating or drinking non-alcoholic beverages and driving a car. Besides never admitting or confessing things to an insurer without speaking to a lawyer, accident victims must understand negligence rules governing tort cases.
“There’s no specific law for somebody eating a cheeseburger and driving a vehicle,” another CHP officer tells Fox40. “But unfortunately we have some drivers who don’t have the ability to multitask.” (Thanks for ruining the commute for the rest of us, guys). Since California’s law requiring hands-free devices took effect in 2008, the CHP has written 518,161 citations statewide. They have written 11,634 tickets for texting while driving.
Driver distraction is anything that can cause your eyes to veer from the road, unless it encompasses operating necessary vehicle controls, such as a turn signal, for example. The result of inattentive driving is almost always a car accident resulting in death or severe injury. Our experienced legal representatives have assisted victims suffering from brain injuries, burn injuries, and survivors of wrongful death car accidents. All of these severely injured victims, hundreds of them, were passengers on motorcycles, vehicle occupants, or pedestrians struck by inattentive drivers. Our award-winning legal counsel has recovered clients over $100 Million in car insurance settlements and verdicts, and we can help you too.
Above are just a few perilous activities existing when operating a motor vehicle. Distraction can reference the occupation of a driver’s attention, hands, or eyes on something other than driving. No specific California Vehicle Code Section deals with eating or drinking non-alcoholic beverages behind the wheel while operating a motorized vehicle. But, as will be discussed, other laws are dealing with safely driving do apply.
And there are also the basic rules of common sense. But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane to discover the historical rise of fast food and eating while driving accidents in the Golden State. Most of us who grew up in Southern California remember how fun it was to see and hear the big “Jack-In-Box” ask us what we wanted to order as we pulled into the drive-thru. Some of us are old enough to remember the Hamburgler and Ronald McDonald, the clown.
My kids still love getting a Happy Meal Box and digging out the toy prize. And it makes sense that California, with its vast spaces and fast-paced lifestyle, would be the home of the drive-thru. Most of us are too young to remember the Happy Days diners of the 50s and 60s.
But a sea change in eating habits began to occur in Southern California in the late 40s and early 50s, altering the world’s eating landscape and the California car culture. McDonald’s started its first fast-food restaurant chain in San Bernardino, CA, in 1948. Karl Karcher started Carls Jr. in Anaheim and Brea, CA, in 1956.
Many more fast food places began taking off in the 70s and 80s. The key is to get the commuter in and out with hot food or a cold drink and fries quickly, so you can cover distance and get on the freeway before rush hour hits. Most of all, eating and driving are part of the California experience. With Billions served, McDonald’s is the undisputed fast-food king when it comes to the drive-thru.
Sometimes using a drive-thru can mean the difference between 20 minutes to get somewhere and sitting in traffic for hours. Due to its vast geography and crazy rush hour traffic, living in Los Angeles means that destinations close to your departure point in heavy traffic can take just as long to arrive at farther away places in light traffic.
But what if you are hungry after a hard day at work? Maybe you miss your wife and kids and don’t have time to eat at a dine-in facility and make it home on time. So part of the Los Angeles car culture means knowing how to time grabbing your coke, burger, and fries before heading back to Long Beach, for example.
In other words, if you leave work from Downtown Los Angeles before the main traffic congestion periods, you stand a much better chance of getting home before a crash slows the freeway so drivers can gawk at the accident. What matters most is that many more people are eating and driving behind the wheel than at any other time in history. Eating and driving accidents are expected to rise.
Noteworthy for injury victims is the rise of drive-through coffee houses like Starbucks and burn injuries. Lap burns are a specific driving accident that has increased. Don’t kid yourself; hot liquid burns have caused many Los Angeles car crashes. So if you were not already distracted enough using your free hand to sip on coffee, now you can deal with hot liquids in your lap and paying the other party’s monetary damages.
McDonald’s and Starbucks have had their fair share of hot liquid burn injury claims over the years. Imagine pulling into the drive-thru to grab a quick snack and some hot coffee while heading to work. You order your hot latte and pay the girl at the drive-thru window as she hands you your drink. But you failed to notice the workers serving you failed to secure your coffee cup’s lid tightly. So you think nothing of it and place the scalding hot drink in the center console’s cup holder, and head to the onramp with your cup of Joe secured in place.
As you approach freeway speeds in your BMW 550, you use your right hand to snatch your drink from your car’s cupholder. Next, with one eye on the road, and the other on your cup, you raise your lips. But then disaster strikes. Not only was the coffee lid insecure, but the coffee was also boiling, so hot it burned up your vagina or penis as its cap fell off and its contents spilled out.
When you are moving at high speed, you must keep both hands behind the wheel. That way, if your vehicle gets hit, you can take evasive action and pull over to the road’s shoulder. Next, your off to the hospital. Heck, you could spill hot liquid in your lap can cause you to suffer nerve damage or amputation of your penis, depending on your medical condition. It’s a scary scenario, but it happens more often than one may think. If you are the one on the receiving end of a distracted driving car accident injury, you understand this by now.
Most specific laws dealing with an inattentive driving incident focus on the number one driving distraction, smartphones, and texting. (See California Vehicle Code Section 23123.5). But this law is a catch-all, dealing with an electronic wireless communications device. And it excepts explicitly hands-free devices, which are still quite distracting when operating a motor car in Los Angeles traffic jams.
Even though there is no law 100% on point, Californa C.H.P. and L.A.P.D use other off-label methods or “loopholes” to nail dummies who eat and drive. Under California’s vehicle code, a driver can be ticketed $145 to $1,000 for having “wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Officers will also be tracking these distractions and distracted drivers because there is no good data on how many distracted driver accident claims exist any given year. (See California Vehicle Code Section 23103)
Anyone stuffing their face behind the wheel of a car is not paying attention to the road. And obviously, they don’t have both hands on the steering wheel. And that endangers the safety of motorists and pedestrians all over the state. If a cop observes you eating or sipping on a beverage and driving, they could pull you over for an investigative traffic stop and write you a traffic ticket. So the cop and you using common sense can make all the difference.
If you safely remain in control of the vehicle in a non-erratic fashion, a cop seeing you eat your burger will probably move along. But if you are eating, driving, and not paying attention, you may be pulled over, cited, or warned. Again, timing is everything. So maybe get up earlier in the day so you can make a meal or snack and take it to your office.
You would be better off tide your hunger over and wait to eat your last meal when you get home. Just remember, even a split-second distraction kills. And removing your hand from the wheel to slurp down your shake or down some french fries is not safe. You have to focus your eyes on the road, not on your greasy Double Double with grilled onions. And with potholes, stop-and-go traffic, and other road hazards, Los Angeles driving requires even more focus to allow enough crash avoidance reaction times. So refrain from having a meal while cruising down the road. That’s what a superb car accident attorney would tell you.
As noted above, eating and drinking behind a car’s wheel is a driver distraction that causes staggering accidents. The statistics show:
Most of all, never underestimate how dangerous eating while driving can be to you, your occupants, and others on the streets and roads.
Instructional and exciting, the NHTSA created a list of dangerous to eat food items while driving.
Eating or slurping down a soda through a straw while driving a motorcar is merely another irresponsible form of inattentive driving. Whether eating and driving behind the wheel is legal or not will be weighed on a case-by-case basis. And just because it’s not a glamorous topic for the news media, it’s deadly. It is noteworthy here that it is at a similar danger as a DUI or talking on a phone while driving, or engaging in personal grooming. Police reports we have seen indicate an uptick in these types of crashes since the COVID-19 lockdown orders prevented eaters from engaging in indoor dining.
Again, there is no law 100% on point; you cannot eat while driving if you become reckless and cause a car crash. But this behavior is negligent when it harms people or property. Any preventable distraction while driving unless involving vehicle control operation is irresponsible! Just grab your meal and head home. Don’t risk getting pulled over by the L.A.P.D. or crashing; kill people instead of killing those temporary hunger pains. Even if you escape your crash with property damage only, you could face months if not years of rehabilitative therapy.
A little fasting never hurts anyone, but a head-on collision with a motorcyclist could subject you to criminal prosecution and a wrongful death lawsuit. Most of all, the only way to prevent distracted driving crashes is by refraining from eating meals while driving down the road. Safety first is what it’s all about. If we can’t get you a decent insurance settlement, we have no fear of filing a lawsuit in court. Our aggressive, distracted drinking and eating attorney will competently and compassionately litigate your claims against the at-fault party who caused your auto accident. Are you still on the fence about retaining the services of Los Angeles car accident attorneys? Don’t be.
If you or someone you love suffered injuries to a distracted, inattentive driver stuffing their face, contact the Los Angeles car accident lawyers at Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. We are based in Los Angeles. Our 24-hour injury attorney hotline is (213) 596-9642. Our superior Los Angeles personal injury attorneys will take your call, hear you out and offer assistance. You can put our advanced professional knowledge of tort law to work for you today. We will come to your home, hospital bed, or place business to sign you up. Or you can travel to any of our over 20 conveniently located California law offices. For even faster service, use our online contact form today. We are the best injury law firm to assist you or your loved ones when you need a legal champion with a listening ear. Call today.
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