I’ve been trying to tell my husband for some time now that he’s a hazard on wheels. A salesman, he’s off every day pedaling his wares and driving long distances to do it. And to keep on schedule, he’s often eating on the go. That means he’s ingesting anything from messy chicken sandwiches to (and I’m still not sure how he manages this) crispy taco salads, all while speeding to his next appointment. He can’t see how steering his Camry through traffic with his knee, while slurping down a Diet Pepsi, could possibly be less safe than hands on the wheel at ten and two.
I’ve tried for at least two years to convince him this is not normal behavior. And while new information has, in fact, made me a liar and shown “dining while driving” to be normal behavior for most drivers, it also shows that it certainly is not safe.
Information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Michigan insurance company show that food is even more hazardous than cell phones, road rage and applying makeup in the rearview mirror (I happen to have safely mastered that last one by the way). But more to the point, it’s the spilling of food that distracts drivers. According to the NHTSA, there are 185.5 million licensed drivers in the United States and 26 percent of traffic fatalities among these drivers is caused by driver distraction – eating being among the worst distracters.
Hagerty Classic Insurance, a Michigan-based insurer of collectible automobiles, began looking into the issue after checking on an insurance applicant and finding a “restraining order” against his having anything edible within his reach while driving. No kidding. The man clearly had had a few too many food-related incidents on his driving record. (No, surprisingly enough, the applicant was not my husband.) The find inspired Hagerty to create a list of the 10 worst foods to eat while driving. In the process, Hagerty also found:
- More drivers have food-related accidents on the way to work in the morning because they’re concerned about their appearance; if they spill something, they immediately try to clean it up.
- The odds of having a food-related accident double if the vehicle has a stick shift, since eating, shifting and steering requires increased dexterity.
- The most hazardous situation exists when the driver is eating and the phone rings. The distraction increases significantly as the driver reaches for the phone and forgets he’s driving. (Hmmm … can we really blame that one on the food?)
There is some good news. At least one fast food chain claims to be working on driver safety. Head for the border for your in-car dining. Taco Bell says it’s gone out of its way to improve the portability of its menu items by adopting “thicker shredded cheese, crunchier taco shells and improved packaging.”
That’ll clear the problem right up, I’m sure. And whoever said Taco Bell was motivated only by financial gain should eat his words. Just not while driving.
Writer Cheryl McMullen is associate editor of BodyShop Business.