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Is Eating While Driving Negligence?

Anyone who spends a lot of time driving, or who has to squeeze meals into a commute as part of a busy schedule, often ends up eating while driving. Like so many bad driving habits, the risks associated with eating can be easy to dismiss for someone who hasn’t experienced the consequences of those risks. At the same time, eating and driving isn’t necessarily unlawful, but it can lead to negligent behavior in some cases.

Eating can be a big distraction

Eating while driving is on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) list of dangerous driver distractions. The NHTSA offers three types of distraction that drivers can experience:

  • Visual distractions draw the driver’s eyes away from the road.
  • Manual distractions require the driver to do something with his or her hands other than controlling the vehicle.
  • Cognitive distractions involve mental processes that aren’t related to driving.

Eating while driving potentially involves the first two items, and could involve the third as well. Glancing down at a bag of chips could be enough to make a driver not see the stopped car out ahead. Eating a burger requires using hands that might otherwise be on the steering wheel. And if the burger falls apart and drops a big mess into the driver’s lap, the driver may suddenly be worried about how to clean up and not about what’s happening outside the car.

Distracted driving is not, by itself, unlawful, but . . .

Prohibiting distracted driving isn’t practical, but that doesn’t mean that a distracted driver can’t be held responsible if his or her distraction leads to an accident. The NHTSA’s statistics show that distracted driving is a common cause of accidents. Nevada’s prohibition of cell phone use by drivers is an example of a specific case where lawmakers have found a way to address a source of distraction. But eating while driving is a different case. Eating while driving is common. Its potential for distraction falls on a spectrum, from relatively minimal distraction to the extreme case of being burned by spilled coffee.

Being distracted by food can lead a driver to make other mistakes that do qualify as negligence. Every driver owes other drivers and pedestrians a basic obligation to pay reasonable attention to the roadway. Failing to do so may be negligence, regardless of its underlying cause. Failing to comply with traffic laws, by swerving into an adjacent lane or running a stop sign, is negligence per se, meaning the fact that the defendant broke those specific rules creates a presumption that the driver was behaving negligently.

For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented Las Vegas clients in accident cases. For a free attorney consultation about your case call us today at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.