No more dining by the dashboard light for you!

By , Posted on 01 November 2012

In northwest Ohio a distracted driving law is pending that, if passed, could mean "eating a cheeseburger" behind the wheel is a traffic violation, says Toledo-based personal injury attorney Mike Bell.

OK, so I admit it: While behind the wheel I eat the occasional Quarter Pounder with cheese and large fries, washed down by a medium Coke. Seriously, who orders a drive-through meal and doesn't dig in immediately? There may be a few motorists out there at this very minute with a take-out bag tucked neatly away on the passenger seat, waiting for consumption upon arrival at the final destination. Bu t I doubt it. If those people exist, I don't ever want to hang out with them.

Back to the matter at hand -- eating and driving, which in this case comes under the "distracted driving" umbrella. The city council in Bowling Green, Ohio, recently introduced legislation that will prohibit distracted driving, which includes, among other things, eating while driving. If passed, violating the law gets you a $25 ticket.

"Bowling Green's law, if passed, would penalize distracted driving of all forms, which could include eating, changing the radio station and gazing out a side window," according to a report.  

The news of the ban comes at a time when the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have launched a nationwide distracted driving awareness campaign.

Typically, however, mobile devices have been the target of such initiatives. Thirty-nine states ban texting behind the wheel. Ten states prohibit all hand-held cellphone use while driving. (See: "The 411 on cellphone tickets and car insurance.")

While not everyone agrees that bans are the answer, there's no question that distracted driving is dangerous. In 2010, at least 3,092 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes – accounting for approximately one in every 10 fatalities on the nation’s roadways, according to DOT.

I agree that we do want people to pay attention while they're driving. Yes, we do want people to be safe on the road. Yes, we need motorists to use hands-free devices for cellphone conversations and IMHO we should nix the texting. 

But banning eating while driving? I'm all in favor of anything that saves life, but the initiative raises a lot questions.

How are cops going to enforce it? What happens if you finish stuffing your face between the time when the police hit the siren lights and he or she arrives at your car? If there's just a soiled napkin and greasy bag left on the car floor, will it mean a burrito Breathalyzer or will your trash become evidence in exhibit A?

Also at issue: where does it end and what's fair? Shouldn't hot soup be a worse offense than a tightly-rolled, self-contained pita wrap sandwich? Are chips exempt if you eat the whole bag in less than 30 seconds while at a red light? Is it justifiable for a large slice with everything to be equal to an energy bar? Does a bite from a bran muffin even count?

And don't get me started on the designated-non-consuming driver. Drum sticks all around! Except you, because you're driving. Yeah, that'll happen.

Let's face it fellow motorists, when it comes to dining by the dashboard light, the genie is out of the bottle.

Speaking of bottles, the vague phrase "distracted driving" also means drinking or grooming while operating a motor vehicle could be deemed irresponsible. While that may be true, I'm not at all sure the water-bottle addicts or the caffeine junkies are going to cotton to that during a long commute. I think these demographics are only slightly less fanatic than NRA members and Whale Wars recruits.

Also, we know that cops in cash-strapped towns, in the past, have fined speeders at higher rates compared to other regions to fill the municipal piggy bank. This caused some states to pass specific revenue-sharing laws to prevent this particular kind of highway robbery. (See:  "The town that lived off speeding tickets.")

Will the police be tempted to do the same for, say, a motorist plucking an errant nostril hair on the way to work? "License and registration, please. Ned, I'm sorry, but you're busted. I saw you with the tweezers. Are you crying because of the ticket, or because your insurance rates are gonna go up, or because it stings?" Any which way, Ned's paying through the nose.

Just one last thought. A distracted driving ban that includes grooming? If it stops people from picking their noses in their cars, I'm all for it.

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Des Toups

Des Toups

Managing editor

Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's.


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