Helpful Information

Is It Illegal To Eat And Drive?

Posted by Harlene Labrum | Jan 16, 2022

When a driver behaves carelessly behind the wheel, they are putting themselves and everyone else on the road at risk. Distracted driving continues to be a dangerous problem, both in Tennessee and across the country. The attorneys at Labrum Law represent victims of car accidents, and we fight to hold negligent drivers liable for the accidents they cause. Though it is not illegal to eat and drive in Tennessee, it can be strong evidence of negligence behind the wheel. Contact our experienced car accident attorneys to learn more about how eating while driving can impact your car accident case. You can reach us by calling (615) 338-9500 or fill out our online form to set up a free consultation. We do not charge our clients anything unless we win their case. 

How Serious Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is a nationwide problem, but it is especially serious in Tennessee. Between 2008 and 2018, there were over 207,000 distracted driving-related crashes, excluding parking lot crashes, private property crashes, and crashes where there was less than $400 in damage. The Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security defined distracted driving in this report as inattentive, texting/PDA, using GPS, using a cell phone, computer, fax, printer, or other electronic device, and others. 

Distracted Driving Laws in Tennessee

According to the Tennessee Highway Safety Office, Public Chapter No. 412 made it illegal for drivers in Tennessee to:

  • Hold a mobile device with any part of their body
  • Send or read texts
  • Reach for cell phones 
  • Watch videos or movies on a mobile device
  • Record or broadcast videos on a mobile device 

There are three forms of distracted driving: cognitive, visual, or manual. This means distracted driving can occur when your mind is not focused on driving, your eyes are not paying attention to the road, or your hands are occupied doing something else. 

Violating distracted driving laws is a Class C misdemeanor. For first-time offenders, it comes with a $50 fine, and the fines increase for subsequent offenses or violations occurring in work zones or school zones. 

What Is Not Distracted Driving in Tennessee?

There are a few explicit exceptions to the distracted driving rule in Tennessee. According to the Coopertown Police Department, these exceptions include:

  • Talking on the phone using a hands-free device, like a speakerphone
  • Sending or receiving text messages using hands-free technology
  • Using a GPS as long as the directions are programmed into the device before driving
  • Making one-touch or one-swipe actions, such as unlocking a device
  • Streaming music from their devices as long as there are no videos
  • Making bona fide emergency calls, such as 911
  • Emergency services personnel are exempt from the distracted driving law during their official duties

When in doubt, however, err on the side of caution. Always keep your eyes and attention on the road, even when you are stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic. 

Is It Illegal to Eat and Drive?

Though the Tennessee statute does not expressly prohibit eating while driving, it is discouraged. For example, Tennessee's Highway Safety Office includes among its tips for safe driving to “Eat Beforehand. Make time in your schedule to eat before your trip. Never eat behind the wheel.”

In all likelihood, a driver will not get pulled over simply for eating while driving. However, if the eating is causing such a severe distraction that it is impacting your driving, you can face penalties. For example, if eating something messy will cause you to shift your focus from the road, it can increase the likelihood of an accident. If this type of distraction does, in fact, cause an accident, remember that you can be cited for other driving infractions, like reckless driving. 

Reckless driving charges would be an extreme punishment for eating while driving, but it is nevertheless possible.

How Can Eating While Driving Impact My Lawsuit?

Even if eating while driving is not per se “illegal,” it may impact a car accident case with regards to liability. In a car accident case, both sides will try to argue that the other driver was the actual and proximate cause of the accident, meaning that they were engaging in careless behavior that would lead to foreseeable results. 

Any careless behavior engaged in by a driver during the accident can impact a car accident case.  Tennessee is a modified comparative fault state, which means that fault can be shared between the drivers. Plaintiffs who contributed to causing the accident will have their recovery reduced by the amount that they were at fault. 

For example, if you were involved in a car accident where another driver changed lanes and failed to see you, you may bring a lawsuit alleging that their negligence caused the accident. However, if it is determined that a driver was distracted, a jury may find that a driver was partially at fault because, had they not been eating or changing the song on the radio, they may have been able to take evasive action to avoid the accident. If you suffered injuries or losses as a result of someone else eating while driving, consider speaking with an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer at Labrum Law to find out more about how your case may be impacted. 

Let Labrum Law Fight for You

Labrum Law has been fighting for victims of Tennessee car accidents for years. We know what it takes to build a strong case and hold an at-fault driver responsible for their actions. Whether it is illegal to eat and drive, or simply irresponsible, our experienced car accident attorneys can help you understand how distracted driving will impact your car accident case. Please call us at (615) 338-9500 or reach out to us online to set up a free consultation and tell us more about your case. 

About the Author

Harlene Labrum

Harlene is focused and passionate about helping those injured in car wrecks.  She earned her J.D. at Nashville School of Law and her Bachelor's degree at State University of New York at Albany, awarded with the highest GPA and high honors.  Harlene began her career in law as a personal injury par...

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