Distracted driving comes in many forms. And while the most dangerous form is often thought to be texting while driving, studies have shown that another equally large issue lurks below the surface. In our fast-paced society, eating while driving is a common way to multi-task and save time. However, this may result in visual, physical and cognitive distractions while driving, leading to an increase in wrecks and near-misses.
To get more information on who is eating and driving and the most commonly snacked on foods behind the wheel, we surveyed 1,000-plus respondents across the nation. We also took a deep dive into some of the most dangerous meals to eat behind the wheel and why.
Most dangerous meals to eat behind the wheel
Whether done for convenience or to save time, eating while driving is a nationwide issue. Although every meal consumed behind the wheel poses a risk, some meals cause bigger distractions than others. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hot coffee, tacos, hamburgers, fried chicken, jelly donuts and chocolate are on the list of top ten most dangerous foods to eat while driving.
When comparing NHTSA’s data to our own, the results are quite shocking. Four of the top ten most dangerous foods are also some of the most popular foods to eat while driving, meaning drivers everywhere (eating or not) need to be extra cautious on the roads to avoid accidents caused by those paying more attention to their food than to the road.
The real costs of eating and driving
The average fender bender — with no bodily damage — costs a driver $8,900. That number skyrockets, however, when drivers and their passengers are injured (upward of $70,000). So the next time you decide to pull into a drive-through for a quick meal or break open a candy bar while out on the open road, consider just how much that item could cost you.
Who is most likely to snack on the road?
Overall, 56 percent of Americans admit to eating while driving on a semi-regular basis, with 7 percent of the nation chowing down while driving every single day. These numbers change, however, when you compare the snacking habits of men and women behind the wheel.
Forty-eight percent of males and 40 percent of females admit to never eating while driving, with the remaining majority falling somewhere in the range of eating behind the wheel every day and only a few times a year. Interestingly enough, when looking only at those who have admitted to eating while driving, women juggle these two tasks more often than do men. In fact, women are more likely than men to eat and drive at least a few times a month. They are also more likely to drive and eat on a daily basis.
While most people would often associate the recklessness that comes with distracted driving with younger drivers, that’s not always the case. Our survey found Baby Boomers were the most likely to eat while driving, with 13 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds eating while driving every day, and 11 percent doing so a few times a week.
As drivers get older, they tend to feel more comfortable behind the wheel, perhaps making them more likely to multitask while driving. Younger drivers, who usually pay higher car insurance rates, are more likely to eat while driving only when necessary, and therefore subsequently raise already high insurance premiums. 43 percent of millennial and Gen Z drivers never eat while driving, while 31 percent only do so a few times a month to a few times a year.
Regional eating and driving trends
How often people eat behind the wheel — as well as what they eat behind the wheel — varies by region. Our survey found french fries are the most commonly snacked on food while driving (42 percent overall). This trend continues throughout every region of the country, as studies show one in three Americans eats fast food every day.
So what regional snacking-and-driving differences exist? If you’re traveling in the south or midwest, you are more likely to see drivers eating burgers than in any other region. Chips and candy bars are more popular driving snacks in the northeast and western regions of the country. One outlier is the midwest, where you can find 30 percent of consumers eating granola bars while putting on their blinkers or changing lanes.
If these statistics are making you nervous to venture onto the road, don’t be too concerned. New legislation is trying to prevent accidents and push drivers to make smarter decisions every day. And while it’s impossible to avoid distracted drivers altogether, it’s best to be protected with full-coverage auto insurance in the event of a fender bender or major crash.