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Is it legal to eat and drink while driving?

It’s no secret that motorists are multi-tasking more than ever behind the wheel. We know turning our attention away from the road to make a phone call or send a text is dangerous and illegal, but what about something as innocuous as putting food or drink in your belly – is that a reason for police to flash the blues and twos and bust you?

Here in the UK, the law doesn’t explicitly say we can’t drink or eat (or smoke, apply make-up, shave or clean our teeth*) while driving. But Section 148 of The Highway Code advises us to avoid distractions and that includes eating and drinking, as well as map reading, loud music, smoking and arguing with passengers or other road users. 

Can I get in trouble?

We’ve seen several newspaper horror stories about drivers being done for eating a packet of crisps, an apple or even drinking from a bottle of water. In each of these cases, the police busted the perpetrator on the assumption that the driver was in fact distracted and was therefore driving without due care and attention, which is illegal (Section 144). 

What’s the big deal?

Researchers at the University of Leeds in the Transport Research Laboratory carried out studies that showed drivers were 44% less in control of their vehicles when eating, drinking or smoking. In fact, Professor Samantha Jamson suggests that these types of activities are just as, if not more, distracting than using a mobile phone.

Though we might sympathise with anyone that happened to be done for munching on a peanut while sat at a set of traffic lights, we do understand the concerns of the police. A lorry driver using all his mirrors and concentrating on the road around him is more likely to be in control than one negotiating a roundabout while dipping nuggets into his McDonald’s ketchup.

It might seem a relatively insignificant crime in some cases but some police do take it seriously. We’ve heard of cops spending a small fortune by using aerial photographs of the ‘apple’ offender for example, to prove their case in court.

What’s the punishment?

If police believe there’s a strong likelihood you’re not in control of your vehicle for whatever reason, you can expect a £60 fine and three points on your license. You can appeal, of course, but if unsuccessful, you’ll be stuck with those points, which can lead to your insurer will charging you higher premiums.

Isn’t this much ado about nothing?

Many drivers cynically suggest these misdemeanour offences are simply another excuse for generating revenue. While there may be some truth in that, it essentially boils down to safety. If we were all stuffing our faces, plucking our eyebrows and trimming our toenails behind the wheel, there would be carnage on the streets.

*This writer has plenty of first-hand experience on driving while doing things she shouldn’t. Brushing my teeth on my way to work, I pulled between two parked cars to let oncoming traffic through on a narrow street when a passing VW Golf clipped me on the rear side panel. Unimpressed, I jumped out of the car to assess the damage, toothbrush in hand. The police happened to drive by and Mr Golf driver cited my ill-timed dental hygiene session as proof of my poor driving. I told the officer it was his fault and I was being courteous to other drivers but was abruptly told to shut up, as I was “in enough trouble as it is.” Needless to say, I now clean my teeth in more appropriate places.



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