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Is It Illegal to Eat While Driving in California?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported more than 3,400 deaths from distracted driving alone in 2016. Every 16 minutes a traffic accident – of any cause – results in a death. As a response, many state governments have enacted distracted driving laws. Most of these laws pertain specifically to cell-phone use. Although the most obvious, cell phones are not the only cause of distracted driving.

Driving in California

California is home to many people who drive a long distance each day commuting to work. Many Californians are on the road so often that a drive-thru meal is often a second-nature decision. The state, as a whole, ranks fairly well for driving safety, considering population size compared to much smaller states. Safety rankings become less satisfactory the more densely populated the area – a common nationwide trend. “Where” becomes less significant a question given roadway accidents are generally unforeseeable.

Types of Distractions

Three types of driving distractions are most notable:

Cell phones can do all three. A radio can do all three. Passengers can do all three. However, so can eating behind the wheel. Eating while driving may not be the first dangerous driving habit to come to mind. Although any of these substandard driving habits can create a dangerous situation for any road traveler, it is always safer for a hungry driver to pull over and park to eat instead of risking an accident by eating while driving.

The Law

A police officer or highway patrolman cannot conduct a traffic stop simply because a driver is eating while driving. However, a police officer can initiate a traffic stop if the driver engages in any unsafe behaviors due to their meal. California law allows for the ticketing of drivers who display a disregard for the safety of people and property nearby.

California has a general distracted driving law. It prevents drivers from acting in any manner that shows disregard for the safety of others. The state assembly wrote the law to include any action which could potentially cause a driver to lose control of his or her vehicle. Although many people understand more extensive laws as a way to increase revenue for the state, laws are preventative measures and California driving laws are no exception.

Tickets and Fines

Driving is dangerous enough without distractions. Traffic accidents consistently make the top-ten leading causes of death list in America. The issue is the safety of others. Because of the severity of potential harm, tickets and fines for distracted driving range from $145 to $1,000 depending on the severity of the offense.

Ultimately, eating behind the wheel could justify for a traffic stop. If the driver who was eating while driving has any role in a traffic accident, the other driver could point to eating behind the wheel as evidence of negligence; the other driver may claim the eating driver was not fully in control of his or her vehicle or not paying enough attention and caused the accident in question.

Involvement in a Driving Accident

Call local authorities to report the accident and follow their instructions. The police will conduct interviews and form an official report of the incident. That document could be crucial to any future legal effort. If the investigation determines a driver caused the accident due to eating behind the wheel, it is likely they will absorb liability for damages. If you were a victim in a car accident due to another’s negligence, contact us. Our car accident attorneys in San Jose can help you explore your legal options during a free consult.

It is best practice to avoid any potentially distracting behavior while operating a motor vehicle. This includes waiting until off of the road so to safely enjoy a meal.