Is Illegal To Eat A Hamburger While Driving?

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I’ve written for years about the dangers of distracting driving and advocating for strong laws to address this problem.  However, I recently read about a case that, in my opinion, takes the matter too far.   An Alabama man was stopped and ticketed in Marietta, Ga., for driving while eating a McDonald’s double quarter pounder with cheese.  The “culprit”, Madison Turner, is fighting the traffic ticket.  He denied driving unsafely and said the officer explained that “he observed me eating a burger for two miles.”

Under Georgia law, motorists must “exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle *** and shall not engage in any actions which shall distract such driver from the safe operation of such vehicle.”  The law is vague but many believe that it has not previously been applied to eating.

Almost all states consider talking on cellphones or texting distracted driving Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 12.39.14 PMincluding New York.  New York’s cellphone and texting laws, however, are only applicable to using cellphones or “electronic devices” while driving.  They do not apply to any other activity.  New York State has a broader law that prohibits reckless driving (VTL 1212) but that law is not applicable per se to munching motorists.   New York City has a “dangerous driving” regulation but that law is only violated if a driver operates a “vehicle in a manner that will endanger any person or property”, again not likely applicable to someone safely driving while biting and chewing.

While one could argue that eating and drinking are distracting activities, you could argue that talking or listening to a radio are distracting activities too.  So even for this hard core advocate against distracted driving, I think that Mr. Turner deserves a break today.  What do you think?

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Yes give him a break today

    Reply
  • Eugene Falik
    May 7, 2015 1:17 pm

    First of all, 47 U.S.C. 333 would appear to protect use of cell phones. On the other hand, virtually all modern cars are themselves “electronic devices.” And if one were to take the law literally, it would be unlawful to look at your watch (digital or quartz). It seems more appropriate o regulate the result (distracted driving or failure to pay attention) than the process. And what about an autonomous (self driving) car?

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