Is It Illegal to Eat and Drive in California?

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The negative impact of distracted driving on American roads is a major cause of concern for law enforcers. The United States government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reports that over 3,100 victims died in 2019 due to cases involving distracted driving. There were about 424,000 reported injuries caused by distracted driving that same year.

Given this fast-paced day and age, it is not uncommon for California drivers to go through restaurant drive-thrus to get their breakfast, lunch or dinner. Although this is much-needed convenience, eating and driving can sometimes attract expensive traffic fines.

The practice also endangers other people’s lives. A simple eating and driving incident can cause driver distractions and lead to massive fatalities. So, when does eating and driving become illegal on California roads?

Let’s review the facts and explore why you might need to hire a professional car accident attorney to cut the settlement time when you are a victim of a distracted driving accident.

Distracted Driving in California

As has been stated, distracted driving is associated with thousands of deaths and injuries. Most California drivers and victims of distracted driving often wonder whether it is illegal to eat and drive.

There are no explicit mentions of eating and driving in the law, although lawmakers have introduced strict distracted driving laws to curb the rising number of associated accidents. The California Highway Patrol has focused on issues such as eating behind the wheel, talking on hand-held cell phones, or applying makeup while driving.

Based on this, there are three categories of distracted driving:

  • Manual distractions: These are distractions that take drivers’ hands off their vehicles’ steering wheels. The negative end result is that the drivers become unable to physically control their cars leading to accidents.
  • Visual distractions: These distractions take motorists’ eyes off the road. This can cause collisions with incoming traffic, or the drivers can veer off the road.
  • Cognitive distractions: These types take motorists’ mental awareness from the road, and they end up losing focus. Examples are deep thoughts, recollections, and daydreams.

Eating and Driving as a Driver Distraction

California state lawmakers have focused on distracted driving laws through Section 23123.5 of the California Vehicle Code, which criminalizes using hand-held cell phones while driving. Other electronic wireless communications devices are also prohibited, although hands-free devices are legal.

Suppose one is caught talking over a hand-held cell phone or any other electronic wireless communication device in California. In that case, the police officer can issue a $20 ticket for a first offense, while a $50 ticket can be issued for a repeat offense.

Police officers can also use the law to cite the offender for eating and driving offenses. For example, Section 22350 of the California Vehicle Code prohibits motorists from steering vehicles at speeds that can endanger other people’s lives. If caught eating and driving at a dangerous speed, a police officer can issue a ticket for distracted driving. A ticket followed by a $150 fine can be issued.

However, the police officer can desist from doing so if they conclude that the motorist was driving safely despite eating behind the wheel.

Therefore, a police officer can stop a driver if they see a clear disregard for other people’s safety. For example, a police officer can see the driver using a fork to eat pasta, opening sauces, or unwrapping food while behind the wheel. These three instances can cause manual and visual distractions and attract substantial fines.

Nevertheless, simply sipping on a coffee or biting on a doughnut might not be enough to warrant a traffic stop unless there is an indication of recklessness on the driver’s part.

Why Is Eating and Driving Dangerous?

Eating and driving is not wrong unless it causes manual or visual distractions for the driver. The practice can create unexpected challenges when the driver loses control of their motor vehicles.

For instance, motorists can spill hot liquids on themselves, reach across a seat, drop a water bottle, or turn the steering wheel accidentally when handling their food. In all these circumstances, the manual or visual distractions created can be detrimental to the passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists like you.

The Dangers Caused by Distracted Drivers

The main dangers caused by distracted driving, especially eating and driving cases, are deaths and injuries. Other closely related consequences include criminal penalties, increased insurance premiums, and lost driving privileges.

As a victim of eating and driving offenses, you might incur huge hospital bills for yourself or your loved ones. There is no easy way to maneuver the situation than to follow due process. It would be best to contact an experienced California car accident attorney to take up your case as soon as possible.

The lawyer can ensure that police officers have completed the necessary reports regarding the specific cause of the accident. The attorney can then go ahead to prove that the accident had been caused by negligence caused by the driver eating behind the wheel.

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer

In conclusion, eating and driving in itself is not unlawful based on California’s Vehicle Code, although police officers can cite drivers if they observe some form of recklessness.

Tickets are issued depending on officers’ belief that the motorists in question can or can not safely multitask while driving. Therefore, if a driver is eating while driving but strictly observing traffic rules, then there are no grounds for warranting a traffic stop.

You can contact Attorney Jeff, your car accident lawyer in California if you need more information or help regarding an eating and driving case. Our law firm focuses on helping car accident victims receive compensation and assistance.


Is it illegal to eat and drive in California?

No. Eating and driving are not explicitly illegal in California. However, motorists can get cited for reckless driving caused by eating from behind the wheel.

What are the consequences of eating and driving in California?

Police officers who conclude that a driver had been reckless due to eating and driving can issue fines. A ticket followed by a $150 fine can be issued.

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