The Distraction of Eating & Driving for Truck & Van Drivers

Discussions on the issue of distracted driving tend to focus on the most prevalent problem: cell phone use. However, fleets that are looking to combat driver distraction in their operations effectively would be remiss to not address another problematic driver distraction: eating and driving.

So, before autonomous cars arrive and allow fleet drivers to easily munch on the go in their work vehicles, fleets should consider how detrimental eating and driving can be regarding the safety of their drivers and vehicles.

How Distracting is Eating and Driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as any activity that diverts attention from driving, and lists eating and drinking as a major contributor right after phone use. 1

“In 2019 there were 3,142 people killed and an estimated additional 424,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers,” according to the most recent report published by NHTSA on the overall dangers of distracted driving. 2

The report further clarifies this particular distraction as “when the driver was eating or drinking or involved in an activity related to these actions (e.g., picking food from carton placed on the passenger seat, reaching to throw out used food wrapper).”

Meanwhile, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute also listed eating as the second major contributor in estimates of inattention-related relative crashes/near-crash risks for experienced drivers 3, an additional study found drivers with food or drink distractions are nearly four times more likely to be involved in vehicle collisions. 4

In 2013, a driver in the United Kingdom knocked down and killed a cyclist while eating a sandwich as they were driving. He was sentenced for causing death by careless driving. 5 In another more recent instance, a semi-truck driver in Michigan choked on a piece of fruit he was eating that resulted in him crashing into a ditch. 6

Another recent study conducted by Griffith University analyzed the specific driving performance issues that were introduced when drivers were eating and driving.

This study found that driving tasks where the person was eating – as well as texting, which the study also observed – were associated with significant impairment in driving performance measures for the standard deviation of lateral position compared to baseline driving, number of lane departures compared to baseline driving, and auditory reaction time compared to baseline driving. The aforementioned “baseline driving” excluded any distractions. 7

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Fleet Managers Can Reduce Food-Related Distractions

One simple method you can implement as a solid foundation toward eliminating food-related driver distractions is to clearly state to your drivers – as early and quickly as possible – what the company’s fleet policy is as it relates to eating while driving. Laying out this as groundwork for your policy early is critical if you want to make sure all of your drivers know the drill as to what is expected of them moving forward.

Additionally, drivers consuming food in the vehicle can lead to unwanted messes that could lead to interior stains in the vehicle, which may end up negatively impacting its resale value as it nears the end of its life. But it can be tough to reinforce this policy – or reprimand those who break it – without actually witnessing that your drivers are eating while they drive.

The implementation of dash cam solutions that provide forward-facing and in-cab video capture capabilities will give fleet managers a transparent and objective look at their drivers. This can help you see and understand your driver’s point-of-view by providing video footage, alerts and behavior analytics to train as well as protect your fleet.

Even if this appears to be a non-issue for your fleet, there’s a good chance some of your drivers are eating on the go, which makes introducing driver monitoring technologies essential. A January 2021 study conducted by The Zebra to gauge the driving habits of Americans found that more than 52% of respondents reported eating while driving 8, so regularly communicating with your drivers specifically what you expect of their on-road behavior is critical.

If you’d like to learn more about how GPS Trackit can help you protect your fleet assets and your drivers with GPS tracking and telematics, contact a Fleet Advisor to learn how to get started.

    1. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving
    2. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813111
    3. https://www.vtti.vt.edu/img/featured/distracted-driving/1.jpg
    4. https://www.lytx.com/en-us/news-events/press-release/2014/lytx-data-finds-three-dangerous-activities-you-may
    5. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-23944993
    6. https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/semi-truck-driver-chokes-on-fruit-on-96-crashes-into-ditch
    7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/
      262340323_The_Influence_of_Drinking_Texting_and_Eating_on_Simulated_Driving_Performance
    8. https://www.thezebra.com/resources/research/distracted-driving-statistics/#statistics-2021

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