You're in a rush. You zip through a drive-through at a fast-food joint to grab a burger and fries to save some time. But the ticket or crash that results from eating behind the wheel could leave you with a bad case of indigestion.
A study by SmartDrive Systems, a provider of web-based driver safety and risk management products, found that food and beverages consumed while driving are more of a distraction than talking on a cellphone. Furthermore, an eating-while-driving mishap can trigger higher car insurance rates.
Marcel Just, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who's an expert on multitasking, says eating while driving "takes your mind off of driving and forces you to try to succinctly perform too many things at once -- eat without choking or spilling, and drive following all the rules of the road." New York insurance agent Jack Smith says: “If you get a ticket because you were eating and didn’t notice the speed limit, that $5 burger could become an awfully expensive lunch.”
According to the SmartDrive Systems study, here are the five food items that are most likely to be on the menu for that "awfully expensive lunch."
Stephanie Schwartz, a driving instructor who owns Road Runner Traffic School in Arizona, says Schwartz says you shouldn’t keep on truckin' after buzzing trough a drive-through. “Stop, park and then eat,” she recommends.
That’s because burgers (even without the cheese) are drippy and greasy. And to keep all that stuff off your face, lap or car seat, you really should use two hands to eat them. But by the time you put a burger aside to get both hands on the steering wheel, it could be too late.
“You will have hit the car that cut you off or the dog that ran out in the road,” Schwartz says.
2. Potato chips
What's the danger in these crispy, crunchy snacks? The salt turns your attention toward looking for something to drink, and the grease has you looking for a napkin instead of looking at the car turning in front of you.
“An alert driver needs 1.5 seconds to react to something that happens while they are driving. A distracted driver who is splitting attention between eating and driving needs 3 seconds to react,” Schwartz says.
And there’s the choking hazard. Dr. Paul Bryson, a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Head and Neck Institute, says that "the jagged edges make them tough to swallow if you accidentally swallow one without chewing it thoroughly.”
While you’re trying to recover from choking on a chip, you could bash into a car, a tree, a mailbox -- or even a pedestrian.
3. Ice cream in a cup
A drippy ice cream cone is bad enough. But at least it requires just one hand to hold. On the other hand, juggling a cup of ice cream and the essential spoon means the use of two hands -- and puts a driver in a precarious position.
“You need two hands on the wheel to maintain the best control of the vehicle,” Schwartz says.
Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York dermatologist, says you should never eat pizza while driving. “Within seconds, the hot, greasy cheese dripping down your face can cause a first- or second-degree burn on the face,” Jaliman says. “The pain will be distracting, and so will the urge to look for a napkin or something to cool your skin."
Even if a slice of pizza doesn't scald you, the grease on your hands makes it hard to hold onto the wheel, switch on a turn signal and so forth, "so you’re going to turn your attention to finding a napkin and won’t pay full attention to the road," Schwartz says.
And let's not overlook another potential distraction -- all of the toppings that can fall off the pizza.
5. Soda without a straw
To be fair, any drink that doesn’t have a straw -- such as bottled water or bottled tea -- can be dangerous. But soda is a common culprit because it's stocked in large quantities at convenience stores.
One problem with bottled beverages: They can be tricky to open when you're behind the wheel. “It’s hard to unscrew a soda bottle cap with one hand,” says Bob Surrusco, general manager of the nonprofit Safe America Foundation.