DUBAI // Eating sandwiches or sipping coffee while driving to work is second nature to most motorists, but few realise how unsafe it can be.
“We are all aware that eating and drinking is one of the most common forms of distracted driving and presents safety risks on motorways,” said Walter Viti, a UK-based road safety and traffic engineering specialist.
“It may be common, but it is also essential if one drives for a living and does not have the opportunity to stop and take refreshment freely.”
On Saturday, Dubai Police took to Twitter to tell drivers that although it may not be illegal, they should refrain from distracted driving.
“Unlike using #mobile phones, drinking and eating while driving is not prohibited by #UAE’s traffic #laws,” police tweeted.
Unlike using #mobile phones ,drinking and eating while driving ,is not prohibited by #UAE's traffic #laws.
“However, (for their own safety) #motorist are urged to refrain from all sources of distraction when #driving. #YourSecurityOurHappiness”
From July 1, motorists caught using phones while driving will face an Dh800 fine and four black points on their licence. The present penalty is Dh200 and four black points.
Road safety experts believe that while the UAE does not explicitly prohibit eating and drinking while driving, it can be as distracting as using a mobile phone behind the wheel.
“There are many stories about drivers being distracted by spilling their coffee or having ketchup run down their shirts or a commercial driver who choked on his food and lost control of his vehicle,” Mr Dreznes said. “It is far safer to pull over to a safe location to eat. Eating while driving could end up being your last supper.”
Mr Viti agreed. “Dangerous driving has clearly been linked to distraction of any kind while driving,” he said. “This also goes for any passenger who may distract the driver to the same level as food and drink, or mobile phone, for that matter.”
Manoj Barakoti, 27, a Nepalese taxi driver who works for Arabia Taxi, said his company prohibits them from eating and driving.
“I always have a bottle of water in my car but stop by a cafeteria,” he said. “I know eating and drinking while driving is dangerous, but I see many drivers doing it.”
But Mohammed, a 27-year-old company driver from Yemen, said it was normal to eat and drink while driving and insisted that he is a careful driver. “I do it all the time and I know it’s not illegal,” he said.
Technically, eating or drinking non-alcoholic beverages is not a traffic offence in the US, said Michael Dreznes, executive vice president of the International Road Federation.
“In the United States, under most distracted-driving laws, police can actually pull you over for engaging in any activity that prevents you from driving safely,” he said. “This can include talking on the phone, applying make-up or even eating while driving. But so far, there is no law that explicitly bans the act of eating behind the wheel.”
However, as a result of the way distracted-driving laws are worded, local law enforcement could potentially determine that eating is enough to warrant a ticket, Mr Dreznes said.
“If someone does take their hands off the steering wheel while driving, this could be considered reckless driving,” he said. “Unwrapping a burger with two hands would require the driver to take his or her hands off the steering wheel.”
Drinking coffee or water while driving is so common that car makers long ago introduced the now ubiquitous cup holders, said Glenn Havinoviski, a US-based transport expert.
“Eating is less common but not unusual,” he said. “I don’t know of any state or city that has banned eating or drinking coffee while driving.”
But some US states are trying to make eating while driving an offence, Mr Dreznes said.
“In the US, New Jersey is trying to expand its distracted-driving ban to include eating. It would prohibit ‘any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with safe operation’.”
Drivers should be alert at all times and keep both hands on the steering wheel, Mr Havinoviski said.
“Drinking coffee, using a mobile phone, or eating while driving is never a good idea.”