Eating-while-driving citation: Have distracted-driving laws gone too far?

A man driving near Atlanta gets ticketed for enjoying a large cheeseburger a little too much. 

A man was ticketed in Georgia for eating while driving, which the officer said fell under Georgia's distracted driving law.

To eat, or not to eat—that is the question. If driving in Georgia, the answer is no, unless you want a ticket.

In Marietta, Georgia, Madison Turner of Alabama was enjoying a double Quarter Pounder with cheese while cruising on a highway. A police officer pulled him over, told Mr. Turner that he witnessed him eating the McDonald’s cheeseburger for about two miles, and then issued him a ticket for violating Georgia’s distracted driving law. The officer told him, “You can’t just go down the road eating a hamburger” three times, Turner said.

The law does not explicitly include “eating while driving” in its verbiage. It does say: “A driver shall exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state and shall not engage in any actions which shall distract such driver from the safe operation of such vehicle.”

“Maybe I was enjoying the burger too much; I needed to tone it down. I was certainly willing to do so, but I didn’t expect to be fined or punished,” Turner told WSB-TV in Atlanta.

Cobb County police spokesman Mike Bowman said the department would not comment, since it is an ongoing case. Turner’s court date is scheduled for February 3.

So what does “distracted driving” entail?

In 2012, then-Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was photographed in the act of reading and driving, after which he defended himself by saying, “I’m a busy man.”

A few years ago, Rhode Island legislator Peter Palumbo tried to ban lapdogs with a hefty ticket of $125 for those who let their canine friends sit behind the wheel.

Cecilia Abadie got a ticket in San Diego for driving and wearing Google Glasses at the same time. And many drivers simply get lost in thought; Forbes reported in 2013 that 62 percent of distracted driving fatalities were a result of daydreaming.

According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety website, in 2012 more than 3,300 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers, and another 421,000 were injured. NHTSA also estimates that drivers are distracted while driving about 30 percent of the time. While talking on cell phones often gets highlighted – since it distracts on a cognitive, visual, and physical level – other behaviors such as eating, smoking, drinking, talking, or fiddling with the car are also culprits.

Across the country, more states have adopted laws to prevent distracted driving. Currently, talking on a hand-held device while driving is banned in 14 states, and restrictions for talking on a hand-held device for novice drivers exist in 37 states. A total of 44 states currently prohibit texting while driving.

Arizona, one of two states without a ban on texting while driving (the other being Montana), came up with a creative method of dealing with those distracted by their phones. They cracked down on distracted drivers by issuing speeding tickets, which state law claims warranted by surpassing a speed “greater than is reasonable and prudent.” A Department of Public Safety spokesperson told the Arizona Daily Star, “Any speed is not reasonable when you’re texting, because you’re not fully in control of your driving.”

Phone usage can typically be easy to spot, but the question then is how to include some of these other distracted behaviors in legislation. Not every distracted behavior is possible for officers to notice, which leaves the responsibility of not being distracted to the driver, or someday to the car. suggests that if you start to lose focus, get out and stretch your legs, breathe deeply, or talk to yourself to stay focused.

“Whether the distraction is inside your vehicle or outside, your willingness to be distracted will influence how successful you are in freeing yourself of driving distractions.”

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