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Eating while you’re driving is dangerous

by Heel Shields

I admit it. I eat when I drive. It’s a busy person habit.      (Copyright 2009, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist)

One time after visiting my mom in Wenatchee, Wash., I was merging onto the freeway just after I left Cle Elum. I’d purchased a whole chicken.

Zoom_25614 Anxious to reach home, I was trying to pull pieces of chicken off with a fork when I was driving. As I was merging, a semi was barreling up on my car. Needless to say, I had to put both hands on the wheel and pay attention to what I was doing. Chicken juice and sauce splattered all over.

I’ve also put an open cup of tea in a grocery bag, only to have it turn upside down; dumped soup in my lap; and dripped a chicken salad sandwich down my front.

In a recent analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, eating and driving was found to be more dangerous than using a hand held cell phone while driving.

According to the administration, 26 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. is caused by driver distraction. The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety also states that distracted drivers cause at least 4,000 to 8,000 accidents per day.

Hagerty Classic Insurance publishes this list of driving and eating dangers:

  1. Chocolate – Whatever you touch – steering wheels, stick shift, clothing, or hair – will carry distinctive fingerprints. Drivers’ instinctive reactions are to clean the offending candy stains immediately, which distracts them from the road ahead.
  2. Soft drinks – Suddenly wearing your soda as you pull out to pass could be a deadly distraction. Open containers holding liquids – hot or cold – can cause a lack of driver concentration when spilled across a shirt or lap.
  3. Jelly and Cream-Filled Donuts – Imagine the disaster as messy jelly oozes onto drivers’ clothes, and they become more focused on the spill than the highway.
  4. Fried chicken – Greasy hands are a sure distraction as drivers tend to constantly try to clean them while driving. Grease on a steering wheel is almost impossible to get off.
  5. Any barbecued food – Barbecue sauce may be delicious, but drivers should remember that "If it can drip, don’t eat it while you drive."
  6. Juicy hamburgers – The same goes for foods that contain messy or greasy extras. A $5 hamburger deluxe could turn into $500 worth of repairs if dripping condiments, special sauces, or greasy meat juices distract the driver.
  7. Chili – Anything containing chili like a chili dog, sloppy Joe or Coney dog is a problem. Steering chili-covered foods to your mouth while steering a car around a corner requires more dexterity than humans possess.
  8. Tacos – Here’s a foodstuff that can disassemble itself without much help while being consumed. One good road bump and the seat of your car looks like a salad bar.
  9. Hot Soups – Eating soup while trying to manipulate a gearshift isn’t sensible. It’s the equivalent to a circus juggling act; a sure recipe for disaster.
  10. Coffee – Coffee is the most hazardous food drivers can consume. Uncovered drinks generally are the greatest offenders for unexpected splashes and spills. Nobody wants to look soiled or messy, especially on the way to work, and coffee spills are the worst because drivers invariably try to make instant clean-ups while still driving. In addition, hot coffee is often served at temperatures near scalding, and can cause serious burns that also divert a driver’s focus.

Hagerty also learned:

  • More food-related accidents happen in the morning hours than in the evening because people are concerned about their appearance on the way to work.
  • The odds of having a food-related accident can double if the vehicle has a stick shift since eating, shifting, and steering requires increased dexterity and adds one more variable to the equation.
  • The most hazardous situation combines eating and cellular phone use. When the phone rings, the "driving distraction" increases significantly and in a rush to answer, drivers forget they’re driving.

So, avoid eating in your car. If you do so, make sure containers have tight-fitting lids. It’s important to concentration on your driving so that you don’t put other drivers at risk.

If you spill something, pull over to the side before attempting to clean up the mess.

Copyright 2009, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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