Sunny California had an estimated population of just over 39 million as of 2022, and this expansive state features several urban centers. 

It’s no surprise, then, that plenty of residents spend their time stuck in atrocious traffic conditions. Statistics show that the average commuter experiences over 60 hours of delays per year due to traffic congestion.

As a result, California drivers may be tempted to multitask during their time stuck in gridlock, calling friends, answering texts, or scarfing down snacks. However, these are all forms of distraction that could increase the risk of car accidents. You may not feel that munching on a sandwich is the same as texting, but is it illegal to eat and drive?

What Qualifies As Distracted Driving?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving could include any activity that takes your attention off the road. When you take your eyes off the road, even for a few moments, accidents can happen.

This is especially true at high speeds. Suppose you’re traveling 65 mph and you look away from the road for just five seconds. In that case, you will travel 325 feet, or nearly the length of a football field, during which you could make a mistake. This could lead to missing slowing traffic or a car changing lanes in front of you, causing a catastrophic highway collision.

Types of Distracted Driving

Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia have implemented some sort of distracted driving laws, and all but six have primary enforcement. Most of these laws specify driver distraction related to cell phones/handheld devices. 

That said, forms of distracted driving could include:

  • Talking on a handheld device
  • Texting
  • Interacting with passengers
  • Interacting with the stereo, entertainment, or navigation systems
  • Interacting with temperature controls
  • Personal grooming
  • Eating or drinking

Any activity that distracts you from the task of driving, even if not expressly covered by law, should be avoided. This includes visual, auditory, manual, and cognitive distractions, and the act of eating and driving certainly qualifies.

Distracted Driving In California

To answer the question, “Is it illegal to eat while driving?” you must understand distracted driving laws. California has several legal restrictions on handheld devices that can cause distraction while driving. 

Primary laws include a ban on handheld devices while driving, a ban on the use of cell phones by school bus drivers, and a text messaging ban. There is also a secondary law banning all cell phone use for novice drivers and drivers under 18.

Is Eating While Driving Illegal?

You may have noticed that the distracted driving law does not expressly prohibit eating while driving. While you can eat while driving, you still might get in trouble for this form of distracted driving or cause an accident. 

For example, suppose a law enforcement officer catches you speeding, driving erratically, or endangering other drivers because you’re distracted by consuming your fast food. In that case, you may be cited not only for the infraction but also for reckless driving. 

Defying handheld device laws will set you back $20 for the first infraction and $50 for subsequent infractions. A reckless driving conviction could entail a fine of $145-$1,000 and/or 5 to 90 days jail time.

Don’t Drive Distracted

If you want to avoid sideswipes, rear-end collisions, multi-car pileups, and other accidents, the best thing you can do is be alert, drive with caution, and follow the rules of the road. 

While it’s not technically illegal to eat and drive, you can avoid potential issues by parking somewhere to eat or waiting until you get home to dig in. The result will be safer roadways for you, your passengers, other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Contact the North County Car Accident Lawyers at Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today

For more information, please contact the Vista car accident law firm of Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation today.

We serve in North County, CA and its surrounding areas:

Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers – Vista, CA Office
380 S Melrose Dr. Ste. 201
Vista, CA 92081

(619) 344-0360

Petrov Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers – Oceanside, CA Office
702 Civic Center Drive Ste. 105
Oceanside, CA, 92054

(619) 678-1016