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Is it illegal to eat or drink while driving?

Is it illegal to eat or drink while driving?

We’re all humans who need to eat to survive, and sometimes we can get hungry while on the road. But is it illegal to drive with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on a burger? 

In Australia, it isn’t illegal to eat and drive. But the lines around this are blurry because you can still get into trouble if eating behind the wheel affects your driving capacity.

Keep in mind that although there aren’t any laws against eating while driving, if it prevents you from concentrating and having full control of your vehicle you could be fined.

The term for this is ‘driver distraction’ and is covered broadly in each Australian state. For example, under NSW Road Rule 297(1), the general road rule states that “a driver must not drive a vehicle unless the driver has proper control of the vehicle”.

If eating while driving interferes with a driver’s control of the vehicle, the driver may be committing an offence depending on the circumstances. This means police do have the right to pull you over and slap you with a hefty fine if they believe eating or drinking behind the wheel is negatively affecting your driving ability.

In NSW, this could come with a $448 fine and three demerit points and that skyrockets to a $561 fine and four demerit points if the offence is committed in a school zone.

In more extreme cases, drivers can also be charged with negligent driving if snacking, eating or drinking distracts them and results in a crash.

In every other state, although it isn’t illegal to eat while driving, it’s strongly advised that drivers avoid it completely.

Reasons why not to eat and drive

According to the road user’s handbooks, drivers need to drive with both hands on the steering wheel, which is technically the opposite of what you would do if you eat while driving because eating requires you to use at least one hand.

Plus, research suggests that at least 14% of all crashes involve the driver being distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle. And since eating can easily be a distraction to for some people, it’s probably best to avoid it.

Give yourself a break

Whether you’re taking a short trip to a mate’s place an hour away or taking a long journey to the coast for a weekend getaway, it’s important to take regular breaks. It doesn’t hurt to pull over, stretch your legs and avoid fatigue by taking a quick break – even if that means using your car bonnet as a dining table.

So, if you’re belly starts to rumble while you’re behind the wheel, perhaps instead of being a one-handed bandit, you can pull over, put your car in park and enjoy your meal with (or without) a view. After all, doing this could save you from an unexpected fine – and as the saying goes – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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