When people talk about about distracted driving, the dangers of hand-held devices such as cellphones are usually at the forefront of the discussion, for good reason. However, there are other things drivers routinely do while behind the wheel that are dangerous, and potentially fatal.
A focus of the most recent National Safe Driving Week campaign was eating behind the wheel. “Distraction is distraction, no matter how you slice it,” said Gareth Jones, President and CEO of the Canada Safety Council. “We all have a responsibility — to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our fellow road users — to remain vigilant at all times and stay focused on the task at hand.”
Driving is a complicated task that always requires your full attention. Any activity that removes a driver’s focus from the road can be called a distraction , whether it’s using your phone, reprogramming your radio or Global Positioning System (GPS), combing your hair or applying makeup, having a conversation with passengers, and yes: even eating and drinking behind the wheel.
A momentary loss of focus on the road can cost you a second or two in which to react to a sudden change in expected traffic or behaviour. That small moment of time can make all the difference in the world.
“Distracted driving is an extremely risky behaviour, and the stakes are high: death, injury, property damage, and rising insurance premiums,” said Peter Braid, Chief Executive Officer of IBAC. “The fries may smell great, but it’s not worth the risk. Resist the temptation and keep your eyes on the road.”
If you’re someone who eats when they’re behind the wheel, you’re not alone. It’s a common activity, with some polls estimating that up to 70 per cent of all drivers do it. Distraction behind the wheel is a major contributor to collisions and near-misses, but drivers often don’t think of eating or drinking behind the wheel as a form of distraction.
There are some easy ways to avoid dining and driving:
- Leave yourself extra time and eat before you leave, or wait until after you arrive at your destination.
- Don’t keep food in your vehicle: it’s easy to avoid the temptation when it’s not within arm’s reach. Leave the granola bar or the candy bar at home. Alternatively, leave your snacks in the back seat or the trunk, out of reach from the driver seat, and pull over if you feel you need to eat.
- Wait until you’re fully stopped — for example, at a red light — before taking a sip from your non-alcoholic drink. Hot drinks can be especially dangerous: coffee is responsible for more distracted driving incidents than any other food or beverage. Piping hot drinks plus a moving vehicle can easily equal an accident.
- If you’re picking up fast food, resist the temptation to immediately dig in. Wait until you arrive at your destination before you start eating. If the smell of that hamburger is driving you crazy, or you absolutely cannot wait to eat, park your car and enjoy your meal while safely stopped.
No meal is worth endangering the lives of your fellow road users, or your own. Act responsibly to keep our highways safe: there are enough road hogs out there already.