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What should you know about eating and drinking while driving?

The United States is a nation of commuters, and drive-thru restaurants encourage commuters to save time by eating on the go.

However, many commuters are unaware how dangerous that morning cup of coffee or lunchtime burger can actually be. In fact, eating and drinking are two of the most common forms of distracted driving.

The facts speak for themselves:

-- One study found that drivers who are eating or drinking while their vehicles are in motion more than triple their odds of being in an accident.

-- In timed studies, snacking reduces a driver's response time by as much as 44 percent. Drinking something while driving reduces reaction times by 22 percent.

-- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) blames up to 65 percent of close calls, where vehicles narrowly avoid crashing, on eating and drinking.

NHTSA has even published a list of the top 10 food items that drivers should absolutely avoid while behind the wheel. That barbecued food, chili, and soup made the list probably shouldn't surprise anyone. However, that list also includes soft drinks, burgers, chocolate and coffee -- all of which are things that many drivers indulge in from time to time.

Eating and drinking while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle actually causes the driver to experience several different distractions. There's a mental distraction caused by the driver's need to split his or her attention between eating and driving. The food or drink is also a visual distraction, since the driver has to glance back and forth from the meal to the road. Finally, it's clearly a physical distraction because the driver has to have at least one hand on the food or drink -- which means one hand is not in place on the wheel to properly guide the car.

If you do pick up something to eat or drink while you're commuting, do your part to contribute to safer roads by parking your car long enough to consume your order. If you absolutely can't stop, try to pick finger-friendly foods and stick to drinks that won't hurt you if they happen to spill (unlike scalding hot coffee).

If, on the other hand, you end up the victim of a car accident caused by someone else's distracted driving, an attorney can provide information on how to proceed with a civil lawsuit seeking compensation.

Source: www.decidedtodrive.org, "Eating While Driving," accessed May 19, 2017

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