Study asserts eating while driving worse than driving drunk

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Burgers may be worse than beers for driving; a study has found eating while driving slows reaction times worse than anything else. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Distracted driving is a killer, leading to thousands of accidents and deaths every year. A British study asserts the worst thing one can do is eating behind the wheel, which can interfere with drivers more than cell phones or driving drunk.

Reaction time hampered most by sandwich

Numerous campaigns are aimed at reducing “distracted driving.” Many states in the U.S., and numerous other countries, have banned cell phone use while driving, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expressed concern over “infotainment” control systems found in cars.

However, a study in Britain has found, according to The Telegraph, that the most deadly distraction, in term of delay in reaction times, was not a cell phone, a child in the car or even being a few sheets to the wind; rather, the worst distraction of all is eating behind the wheel.

Drunks react better eaters

The study, conducted by researchers from the Transport Research Laboratory at the University of Leeds, was done using nine drivers in a simulator who were subjected to various distractions, according to the Daily Mail.

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Reaction times in the study were slowed by 44 percent while eating. Taking a drink of coffee or other beverage slowed reaction times by 22 percent and increased the chance of swerving into another lane by 18 percent.

Hands-free phone conversations slowed reaction times by 26.5 percent and sending a text slowed reaction times by 37.5 percent. Having a blood-alcohol level at the legal limit, or in other words high enough to get arrested, slowed reaction times by only 12.5 percent.

The study concluded that taking one hand off the wheel was a crucial factor in slowing the reaction times. According to the Daily Mail, an estimated 2 million accidents occur in the United Kingdom because of drivers using one hand to operate the vehicle.

A known problem

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found, according to Amarillo, Texas, radio station KMXJ, that eating behind the wheel increased odds of an accident by 80 percent and 65 percent of near-miss accidents were caused by people chowing down while driving.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Highway Patrol started cracking down on distracted driving by ticketing motorists seen eating, putting on makeup or otherwise driving in a distracted manner for “wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” in December 2011.

Most states have negligent driving laws; motorists can be ticketed if eating while driving leads to erratic driving. However, explicit bans on eating while driving are being considered in some areas, such as Virginia, according to WUSA9, a Richmond CBS affiliate, and in Oak Park, Ill., according to CBS Chicago.


The Telegraph

Daily Mail

Los Angeles Times



CBS Chicago:

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