24 May 2022

By Jividen Law Offices, PLLC

In Car Accident

If you live or travel in West Virginia, you probably know that state law prohibits texting or using handheld phones while driving. But do you know whether the state’s distracted driving laws prohibit eating behind the wheel, too?

No, it’s not illegal to eat or drink while driving in West Virginia. But eating while driving does create a distraction. Juggling food or a soft drink requires taking one hand off the steering wheel. Eating also may take a driver’s focus off the road. To minimize driving distractions, it’s best to eat before setting out on a trip or stopping at a restaurant for a few minutes to eat.

If you have been involved in a crash in West Virginia and the other driver was eating or drinking when the accident occurred, driver distraction may have contributed to the accident. You may have a right to seek compensation from the distracted driver. A personal injury attorney at Jividen Law Offices can review the details of your accident and discuss your legal options during a free initial consultation.

The Dangers of Eating While Driving

It’s easy to see how consuming food or drink behind the wheel can be risky. Hot liquids spilling, sauces dripping, or packages refusing to open can shift a driver’s attention away from the road. Many drivers dismiss these risks, despite research suggesting that drivers who eat or drink while driving are more than three times as likely to be involved in traffic collisions as those who don’t eat or drink while driving.

Three factors make eating or drinking while driving nearly as dangerous as any phone distraction:

  • Eating or drinking occupies at least one hand – You need a hand to hold a beverage cup or a piece of food, which leaves only one hand on the steering wheel. Safety experts refer to this kind of distraction as a manual distraction. While most people think nothing of driving single-handedly, having only one hand on the wheel significantly limits your ability to react swiftly in emergencies. If you must make a quick turn, one hand does not usually offer enough control. You will need to move your second hand quickly to the steering wheel.
  • Avoiding food or beverage spills requires some level of focus – It may not feel like you’re doing anything when you hold a coffee cup or sandwich while driving. But eating or consuming a beverage does require a portion of your attention. Balancing a food item or beverage as the vehicle moves takes focus. This type of distraction is known as a cognitive distraction because it diverts your full attention from the road. Similarly, if a spill prompts you to take your eyes off the road, it’s called a visual distraction. Depending on the circumstances, eating or drinking behind the wheel can combine all three types of distractions.
  • Any distraction can slow your reaction time – Any type of distraction can substantially delay your recognition and reaction to a traffic hazard. In a crash or near-crash scenario, even a split second can mean the difference between colliding with another vehicle and avoiding a crash.

Foods to Avoid While Driving

Despite the widespread availability of the following types of food and drink items in fast-food restaurants, it’s best to avoid these foods while driving:

  • Burgers – Greasy hamburger patties and slippery toppings can easily end up smeared on your hands or dripped on your shirt or pants. Reacting to a spill can distract you from the task of driving.
  • Tacos – Tacos are messy enough at the dinner table and best avoided when you’re behind the wheel of a car.
  • Chili dogs – Chili dogs and similarly messy handheld foods tend to drip and splatter onto laps and shirt fronts.
  • Wings or ribs – Although wings and ribs are traditional finger foods, they are hard to eat without getting sauce on your hands or face. It’s better to avoid them on the road.
  • Fried foods – Fried foods like French fries and chicken fingers can be messy to handle.
  • Coffee – Drivers who sip coffee during their commutes are all too familiar with the tendency of hot coffee to leak from even secure travel lids.
  • Soup – Sipping hot soup on the run puts drivers at risk for painful and hazardous spills.
  • Soda – Drivers contending with leaky soda cup lids, stubborn screw-on caps, or open cans can become seriously distracted behind the wheel.

How to Avoid Eating and Driving

You can avoid the urge to eat or drink in the car and reduce your risk of distracted driving accidents by:

  • Eating or drinking before you leave – Eating or drinking on the go can save time, but it’s not exactly enjoyable and definitely unsafe. Consider giving yourself an extra 10 to 15 minutes to eat or drink before getting behind the wheel.
  • Keeping food and drinks out of the car – If you normally keep snacks or drinks in your vehicle, they may be too tempting to resist. You can simply adopt a rule to keep all food and drink out of the car.

It’s best to avoid eating or drinking while driving. However, if you must eat behind the wheel, try to limit yourself to foods that are easy to hold and quick to consume, such as granola bars.

Eating While Driving and Civil Liability

West Virginia law explicitly prohibits texting or talking on a cell phone except in hands-free mode while driving. It does not reference other forms of distracted driving, such as eating while driving. Even though law enforcement officers can’t arrest drivers or issue citations for eating while driving, they can do so if drivers engage in unsafe or illegal behaviors because they are distracted by food or drink.

If a driver is involved in an accident while eating or drinking behind the wheel, the distracting activity may be considered evidence of fault. If you were injured in a wreck caused by another driver who was preoccupied eating or drinking rather than paying attention to the road, a knowledgeable attorney could help you hold them accountable and demand compensation for your injuries.

Contact a Distracted Driving Accident Lawyer in West Virginia

At Jividen Law Offices, our trusted attorneys have more than 50 years of combined experience advocating for West Virginia injury victims. If you have been injured in a car accident caused by a negligent driver who was eating or drinking while driving, we can help you seek full and fair compensation. Let us manage your case while you concentrate on healing from your injuries. Contact our office today for your free initial consultation.