Are Drivers Who Eat and Drink While Driving Negligent?

Are Drivers Who Eat and Drink While Driving Negligent?

Please be advised that the following topic is for informational purposes only and not a legal matter currently handled by our firm. If you have a serious injury claim and need legal representation, please contact us, but if need more information regarding this particular topic, you can contact your local Bar Association for a referral to an attorney who may be able to address your inquiry in more detail.

You roll through a drive-through and pick up a burger, then unwrap it and chow down while you hit the road. Is this negligent driving?

Most people would assume it’s fine and well within the law. But you might be surprised to discover that in California, eating and drinking while driving can be considered distracted or reckless driving in certain circumstances.

Someone who causes a car accident due to eating or drinking could be liable for the expensive costs of a crash. Here’s why.

Any Distraction Can Cause an Accident

While distracted driving is commonly associated with texting and driving, almost anything can be a source of distraction. Your pet could jump from the back seat into your lap. A waving pedestrian by the side of the road could catch your eye. All it takes is one moment of inattention to cause an accident.

Common causes of distracted driving include:

  • Handheld devices like smartphones
  • In-car features and entertainment
  • Navigational technology
  • Adjusting music
  • Unruly passengers
  • Applying makeup
  • Talking or gesturing
  • Pets
  • Children
  • Food and drink

When it comes to food, a sudden mishap is often at the root of a distracted driving accident. For example, someone might be sipping a drink that slips out of their hand and splashes everywhere. Now they’re at risk of swerving into someone and causing a crash.

The California driver’s manual reminds drivers that it’s each person’s responsibility to keep their hands and eyes on the road at all times and adjust their driving to the current conditions. Allowing yourself to become distracted even momentarily puts everyone on the road at risk.

Is Eating While Driving a Crime?

California has long been at the forefront of safe driving initiatives. Since 2009, texting while driving has been against the law in California and a police officer who sees you engaging in this behavior can pull you over and cite you for it.

However, it’s not a crime to eat or drink nonalcoholic beverages while driving. Strictly speaking, a police officer can’t pull you over just because they saw you take a sip of your drink or nibble a bite of food.

However, they can stop you if they witness you doing something dangerous, like weaving back and forth on the road as you eat. Under California law, willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others is illegal.

Beyond the criminal concerns, there are also civil implications for negligent driving. Below we’ll explore the issue of liability for damages after an auto accident that involves eating or drinking.

When Eating and Drinking is Negligence

Here’s what typically happens when an auto accident happens and a civil legal action begins. Each person is evaluated to determine their share of the blame. This is a California legal concept known as comparative negligence.

If someone was acting negligently just before the collision, they may hold some to all of the liability for the crash. As a result, they could be ordered to pay anywhere up to 100% of the expenses related to the accident.

Imagine a situation where a busy parent and their three young children are all eating dinner while riding in the car. As the parent drives along, they become distracted by all of the food wrappers and rowdy kids asking for help.

BAM! The parent sideswipes another car and sets off a horrific chain-reaction collision that involves numerous damaged cars and injured people. In a case like this, a judge or insurance company might decide that the parent negligently put others at risk, including their own children.

This person could be held responsible for all costs in the collision, including the costs incurred by the innocent people who suffered in the chain-reaction crash. As you can see, simply eating in the car can cascade into a much more complicated situation with negligence and legal liability.

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If you know or suspect that distracted driving may have played a role in your car accident, contact the attorney team at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers. We handle many areas of personal injury law, including distracted driving accidents that involve negligent eating and drinking. We believe you should be able to focus on recovering from your accident while we handle the legal details. Call 877-380-8852 today for a free case evaluation.


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After an accident, contact the attorneys at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers. We handle many types of traffic injury claims. We believe you should be able to focus on recovering from your accident while we handle the legal details.

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It is essential to know your rights after a traffic accident so you can protect yourself and the value of your claim.
This guide will help you:

  • 1Know what to do when dealing with insurance claims, police reports and lawyers.
  • 2Avoid making mistakes that undermine the value of your claim
  • 3Put yourself in a position to get the best settlement possible