Do you sometimes eat while you are behind the wheel? You are far from alone. According to a nationwide survey of drivers conducted by Zebra, approximately 56% of Americans admit that they eat and drive. The true extent of eating and driving may be even more prevalent than that. This is alarming because eating while driving has the potential to be dangerous.
This raises an important question: Is it illegal to eat and drive? In Florida, the answer is “no”—at least not explicitly. Though all motorists in Florida have a duty to avoid distracted driving. A driver could be liable for a crash caused by eating and driving.
Our Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyers explain the key things you should know about eating and driving in Florida.
Table of Contents
- The Law: Eating and Driving is Not Banned in Florida (But Distracted Driving is Unlawful)
- Understanding When Eating and Driving Becomes Illegal in Florida
- Why is Eating While Driving Dangerous?
- What is Considered Distracted Driving?
- An Overview of the Types of Distracted Driving
- What Happens if You Get Pulled Over for Eating and Drinking While Driving?
- Are There Any Foods I Am Not Allowed to Have in My Car?
- Are There Any Liquids I am Not Allowed to Have in My Car?
- What Happens if I am Pulled Over With an Open Bottle of Wine or Beer in the Car?
- Is Smoking While Driving Illegal?
- Is it Illegal to Wear Headphones While Driving in Florida?
- Do You Always Need to Have Your License on You When Driving in Florida?
- Why Hire BK Law for a Car Accident Claim in South Florida?
The Law: Eating and Driving is Not Banned in Florida (But Distracted Driving is Unlawful)
In the state of Florida, there is no specific law that bans eating while driving. Drivers may enjoy a meal or a snack behind the wheel without breaking any direct statutes. However, it is important to emphasize that the lack of a specific statute does not make eating and driving safe. It can be extremely risky. It also does not necessarily always make eating and driving lawful. Distracted driving is unlawful in Florida. Eating and driving could be distracted driving. Here is a more comprehensive explanation of what you need to know:
- Civil Liability (Negligence): Eating and driving could result in civil legal liability if a crash happens. If a driver is found to be negligent due to distracted driving caused by eating or any other activity, they may be held liable for any resulting damages or injuries. Negligence claims may arise if a driver fails to exercise reasonable care and caution while behind the wheel. Eating while driving could be deemed negligence. In the event of a collision, the distracted driver may be deemed responsible and be required to compensate the injured party for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. Fault matters. You may want to dispute a car accident fault with the help of a Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyer.
- Criminal Liability (Reckless Driving): Although quite unusual, it is technically possible that eating and driving could result in some form of a criminal charge. Under Florida law, reckless driving is a criminal offense that occurs when “any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.” Snacking while behind the wheel is certainly not reckless driving in Florida. Still, if a driver is eating in a manner that is extraordinarily unsafe, they could face a charge.
Understanding When Eating and Driving Becomes Illegal in Florida
By itself, eating while driving is not illegal. Even though it is a good idea to eat before or after you drive, you are not going to be ticketed or arrested simply because you take a bite of food while behind the wheel. Eating and driving in Florida only becomes unlawful if there is a civil or criminal violation. From a civil law perspective, eating and driving becomes unlawful if it is negligence. In other words, if eating and driving makes you an unsafe driver, it is unlawful. From a criminal perspective, eating and driving is only illegal in a very narrow set of circumstances in which a driver is behaving with such willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others that it constitutes reckless driving.
Why is Eating While Driving Dangerous?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that thousands of Americans are killed, and tens of thousands are injured, in distracted driving crashes every year. Eating while driving is a form of distracted driving. It has the potential to be extremely dangerous. A motorist who is eating behind the wheel in Fort Lauderdale may put themselves, their loved ones, or other innocent people at risk. Here are some notable reasons why eating and driving is dangerous:
- Divided Attention: Eating requires a certain level of focus, which means that the driver’s attention is divided between the road and the food they are consuming. This split attention reduces the driver’s ability to react quickly to sudden changes in traffic conditions, unexpected obstacles, or other hazards on the road, increasing the likelihood of an accident.
- Reduced Reaction Time: When a driver is holding food or a drink, their ability to maneuver the steering wheel, gear shift, or operate other controls is limited. This restriction can delay reaction time in critical situations, making it more challenging to avoid a collision or respond to an emergency.
- Impaired Vision: Eating and driving often requires a driver to look down at their food, take their eyes off the road, or partially obstruct their view with food packaging or containers. Even a momentary lapse in visual attention can result in missed traffic signals, pedestrians, or other vehicles, leading to potentially dangerous situations.
- Physical Discomfort: Spilling hot or cold food, experiencing an adverse reaction to the food, or choking can cause physical discomfort or panic while driving. These unexpected incidents can lead to sudden and erratic movements, potentially causing an accident or loss of control of the vehicle.
What is Considered Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts a driver’s attention away from the task of operating a vehicle. Common examples include using a cell phone, applying makeup, reading, programming a GPS device, and, yes, eating or drinking while driving. Any behavior that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind off the task of driving can be considered distracted driving. This type of behavior is dangerous and can result in accidents, injuries, and even fatalities on the road.
An Overview of the Types of Distracted Driving
There are many specific forms of distracted driving—from texting to eating. However, all forms of distracted driving involve one or more of the following three categories:
- Visual Distractions: A visual distraction involves taking one’s eyes off the road;
- Manual Distractions: These entail removing one’s hands from the wheel or gear shift;
- Cognitive Distractions: These distractions draw mental focus away from driving.
It should be noted that eating and driving can be a visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. For these reasons, eating while driving has the potential to be extremely dangerous. Drivers in Florida should always put safety first. Do not put yourself or others in harm’s way.
What Happens if You Get Pulled Over for Eating and Drinking While Driving?
In Florida, you are very unlikely to get pulled over merely because a police officer saw you eating food while behind the wheel. That being said, you may be pulled over because you were distracted and (allegedly) violated other traffic regulations. Alternatively, you could be pulled over because the officer believes that you are operating your vehicle in a reckless or unsafe manner. What exactly will happen depends entirely on the specific allegations. As stated previously, reckless driving is a criminal offense in Florida.
To learn more, schedule a free consultation with us today.
Are There Any Foods I Am Not Allowed to Have in My Car?
In Florida, there are no laws that prohibit specific foods from being consumed in a car. However, it is important to note that some foods may be especially dangerous to eat while driving. For example, a hot soup or a meal that requires a fork and knife could be very dangerous to eat when driving.
Are There Any Liquids I am Not Allowed to Have in My Car?
Yes. An open container of alcohol. In Florida, It is illegal to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a vehicle while it is being operated on a public roadway, even if the driver is not drinking. Alcoholic beverages should be transported in the proper manner.
What Happens if I am Pulled Over With an Open Bottle of Wine or Beer in the Car?
Under Florida law (Florida Statutes § 316.1936), you cannot lawfully operate a motor vehicle with an open bottle of wine or beer in the car. Violation of the open container law is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable by a fine and points on the driver’s license. Though, it is important to note that some cities and counties have more strict local ordinances. Of course, a person suspected of intoxicated driving may be arrested and charged with a criminal DWI offense.
Is Smoking While Driving Illegal?
Smoking while driving is not illegal in Florida. A driver cannot be stopped simply for smoking. Of course, this applies to cigarettes. Smoking an impaired narcotic while behind the wheel—such as marijuana—is a criminal offense in Florida.
Is it Illegal to Wear Headphones While Driving in Florida?
You may want to know: is it illegal to wear headphones while driving? In Florida, the answer is “yes.” Unlike eating and driving, there is a specific state statute in place for headphones and driving. It is unlawful in Florida to wear headphones while behind the wheel.
Do You Always Need to Have Your License on You When Driving in Florida?
Is it illegal to drive without your license on you in Florida? The answer is technically “yes”—state law requires all motorists to have their license on their person. However, driving without your license on you is a correctable offense. While you may be cited for a violation, you can go to the Clerk of Court and prove that you actually have a valid license. This is different from driving without a valid license. In Florida, driving without a license at all is a criminal offense.
Why Hire BK Law for a Car Accident Claim in South Florida?
Distracted driving accident claims are complicated—and eating while driving cases are no exception. You may have a lot of questions about your case, such as, “How much compensation can I recover?” “Who can be held liable?” and “How long after a car accident can I claim injury?” You do not have to figure it out alone. At BK Law, we are a full-service law firm that advocates for the rights and interests of the people who need help the most—not the big insurers. Car accident lawyer fees are not something that you need to worry about. Our law firm represents injured victims on a contingency basis.
At Bernheim Kelley Battista, LLC, our Fort Lauderdale auto accident attorneys have the skills and experience to take on the full range of distracted driving accident claims. If you were in a crash involving eating and driving, we are here to protect your rights. Call us now or contact us online to arrange a free, fully confidential consultation. From our legal office in Fort Lauderdale, we handle distracted driving accident claims in Broward County and throughout the surrounding region.
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