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Is it Illegal to Eat While Driving in CA?

Business man drinking coffee and eat in the car.

Distracted driving is a major problem on California roads, representing an increasingly large portion of the main factor causing traffic accidents. When most people think of distracted driving, however, they think of texting while driving. Handheld cell phone use while driving is certainly a significant player in distracted driving accidents, and it has been outlawed in California as a result. But does California law address other types of driver distractions? Can drivers perform activities such as eating while driving, or are there legal prohibitions? Continue reading to learn about California’s distracted driving laws, and call a seasoned Los Angeles car accident lawyer if you’ve been hurt in a car crash in Southern California.

No Specific Prohibition on Eating While Driving

California has several distracted driving laws and other laws pertaining to unsafe driving conduct. In particular, California enacted a ban on handheld cell phone use while driving in 2008. Under that law, drivers cannot hold and operate a phone or other electronic wireless communications device while driving, although hands-free use of a device while driving is legal. Effective July 1, 2021, drivers who violate the existing hands-free law face enhanced penalties.

Unlike the ban on cell phone use while driving, there is no specific law that directly prohibits eating while driving. While there are laws that pertain to unsafe driving generally, no law specifically targets eating.

Tickets for Unsafe Driving

Just because there is no law specifically targeting eating while driving, however, does not mean that drivers can freely eat. California has a general distracted driving law that prohibits drivers from acting in any manner that shows disregard for the safety of others, or that might cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle. While a police officer cannot pull a driver over just for eating, if the driver is otherwise driving in an unsafe manner because they are eating, they might get pulled over.

Any driver who “drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” can be prosecuted for reckless driving. A person convicted of reckless driving can face up to 90 days in county jail as well as a fine of between $145 and $1,000. Likewise, if a driver is speeding excessively because they are distracted by eating, they may get a ticket for speeding.

Civil Liability for Eating While Driving

Regardless of whether there is a specific law prohibiting eating while driving, any activity that might be considered distracting or otherwise unsafe can give rise to civil liability. If a driver causes an accident because they were negligent, they might be held liable for harm that comes to any other driver, passenger, pedestrian, or other person on the road.

Eating while driving might not be illegal, but if a driver causes an accident because they were distracted by their sandwich, any court or jury would consider that to be strong evidence of negligence and fault for the accident. Safety officials define driver distraction in three categories: manual, visual, and cognitive. Manual distractions take the driver’s hands off the wheel, visual distractions take the driver’s eyes off the road, and cognitive distractions take the driver’s attention from the task of driving. Depending on what the driver is eating, and how they are eating it, eating while driving may satisfy all three categories of distraction, making it especially dangerous.

If you were injured in a car accident in Los Angeles, you need dedicated, experienced legal help to protect your rights. Reach out to a California auto accident attorney at Morris Law Firm to find out if you have a claim for damages. Morris Law Firm will give you a personalized evaluation and help you figure out your legal rights and next steps. Call us today at 747-283-1144 for a fast response or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.

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