It is a driver’s legal responsibility to operate his or her motor vehicle safely and prudently – meaning without succumbing to dangerous distractions. Safely operating a vehicle requires a driver’s full cognitive, visual and manual attention. Eating and driving breaches this duty of care by removing a driver’s attention from the driving task. Whether or not a driver breaks an actual law by eating and driving in Texas, he or she could be legally responsible for a related crash.
Distracted driving is a major problem in the State of Texas and throughout the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that driver distractions claimed 2,841 lives in 2018. In Texas alone, close to 98,000 car accidents in 2019 involved distracted driving. These collisions caused about 2,500 serious injuries and 378 deaths. Although cellphone use such as texting and driving is the main cause of driver distraction, tasks such as eating, drinking, chatting with passengers, personal grooming and changing the radio station could also cause driver distractions.
It is not technically illegal to eat or drink while operating a motor vehicle in Texas. Texas does not have any laws specifically prohibiting eating while driving. If, however, a driver who is eating cannot safely or prudently control the motor vehicle because of this distraction, he or she could be guilty of reckless driving. Reckless driving is against Texas law under Transportation Code 545.401. This law states that reckless driving is a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine of up to $200 and/or up to 30 days in jail. The definition of reckless driving is to operate a vehicle with a wanton disregard for the safety of others.
A driver who is eating behind the wheel could also be guilty of an infraction if the distraction is enough to make him or her break a traffic law. If a driver who is eating fails to notice a light turn red, for example, he or she could be guilty of running a red light. Unsafe lane changes, failure to yield the right-of-way, speeding, drifting in and out of lanes, driving the wrong way, tailgating, and driving too slowly are all common mistakes a driver could make while distracted by food or a beverage. While the police cannot stop a driver for eating and driving alone in Texas, a driver who commits an infraction while eating could receive a ticket.
A driver does not have to be guilty of committing a crime to be liable for a car accident. Under Texas’ liability laws, the driver must only be guilty of negligence – a breach of his or her duties of care to other drivers – to be liable for a collision. Holding food or drink or looking down at one’s lap could remove the driver’s eyes from the road and hands from the wheel long enough to cause a car accident. Even if the driver was not guilty of reckless driving or another traffic infraction at the time of the accident, he or she could be liable if the distraction of eating caused the wreck.
If you were injured in a car accident involving a distracted driver who was eating behind the wheel, take photographs of any available evidence while still at the scene. This could include food wrappers or a beverage in the other driver’s front seat. Obtain the names of any eyewitnesses who might have seen the other driver eating or drinking. Then, contact a Houston car accident attorney for assistance building a distracted driving case. An attorney in Texas may be able to acquire additional evidence for you, such as receipts showing what time the driver ordered fast food. A lawyer can help you hold someone liable for causing a distracted driving accident by eating, with or without a broken law in Texas.