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Drivers who are drinking and stuffing their faces while on the road are a serious problem.
Restraining Orders for Food?
Hagerty Classic Insurance, a provider of classic-car insurance, began to look more closely at this issue after a DMV check on an insurance applicant turned up a "restraining order" against anything edible within his reach while driving. The man apparently had several previous accidents related to food on his driving record.
Eating while you drive is one of the most distracting things you can do, according to several recent surveys by insurance companies and data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Though NHTSA doesn't track specific information on food-related distraction, it does track general distractions and, as of 2000, distractions in cars were considered the cause in 25 percent of police-reported motor vehicle crashes. According to NHTSA, "distraction was most likely to be involved in rear-end collisions in which the lead vehicle was stopped and in single-vehicle crashes." What makes distraction such a problem is the confluence of the distraction, such as eating, and the unexpected occurrence of events on the road, such as a sharp curve or a driver stopped ahead of you.
In looking at the insurer's history of claims, Hagerty found that most drivers had problems in the morning on the way to work, when spills were likely to mar their work attire. That made drivers more anxious to clean up spills while still trying to drive, and didn't necessarily make them more likely to pull off the road to deal with the mess.
"It really seems it's more the spill than the eating," says Hagerty. "Anything that drips is probably not a good idea." Hagerty and his staff decided to do a study of their own to see which foods are the worst offenders, and although Hagerty says he ruined a few shirts in the process, they found some interesting information.
Coffee is the top offender because of its tendency to spill. Even in cups with travel lids, somehow the liquid finds its way out of the opening each time you hit a bump, says Hagerty. "I've certainly spilled my share of coffee while I'm driving, and it's not when I'm trying to drink, it's when I hit bumps in the road." And if the stain on your clothes isn't bad enough, the high temperature of most coffees can cause serious burns and distract drivers who are trying to drive while in pain.
The Top 10 Food Offenders In A Car Are:
Insurance companies such as State Farm Insurance and Allstate Insurance Co. don't track specific information on eating and driving, because it's too difficult to break it down. State Farm says the company is aware it is a problem. The difficulty in pinning down the exact cause of accidents lies in separating distractions such as cell phone use, talking to passengers, reading the newspaper, and eating, all of which drivers engage in while also trying to operate a two-ton piece of machinery.
Hagerty found that driving a standard vehicle with a stick shift while eating can double the potential for an accident, since one hand is holding food and the other hand is shifting. That leaves no hands for steering, says Hagerty. Even more dangerous is using a cell phone, eating, and driving. "When the phone rings, the driving distraction increases significantly and, in a rush to answer, drivers forget they're driving," says Hagerty.
How widespread is this food problem?
According to a survey conducted by the Response Insurance Agency in 2000, eating while driving ranks as the No. 2 driving distraction. Fifty-seven percent of drivers surveyed say they eat and drive.
The No. 1 distraction noted by 62 percent of surveyed drivers is tuning the radio, and No. 3, noted by 56 percent of drivers, is turning around to talk with passengers. Interestingly, only 29 percent of drivers surveyed listed talking on a cell phone as a distracting activity in which they engage.
In a 2001 survey of 1,000 drivers for Exxon, more than 70 percent of drivers say they eat while driving, up from 58 percent in 1995. Eighty-three percent say they drink coffee, juice, or soda while driving and a few even say they'd love a microwave in their car.
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