Important Rules for Eating and Driving

Whenever I see somebody driving their car along the road and then stopping to take a bite of a sandwich, I do one of those acknowledging head nods, maybe even put my fist in the air. “We’re the same,” I often mutter to myself. That’s because I completely identify with the experience of eating while driving. Whether it’s because of impatience, or wanting to break up the monotony of driving with a modicum of joy, eating and driving just makes sense to me. That said, there are rules to the experience. I mean, you can’t just eat a bowl of cereal in the car like a madman.

Now, you might be saying, “Isn’t eating and driving illegal?” Not outright, at least in California. But, like all parts of the law, there are some gray areas. For instance, here in California, an officer may pull you over for anything they deem “distracted driving.” Per a local personal injury firm’s website:

If a police officer or highway patrol officer observes you eating and driving in a way that demonstrates “a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” you can be pulled over and charged with reckless driving under California Vehicle Code 23103 VC.

California’s reckless driving law is extremely vague and broad, giving police officers very wide discretion in charging someone with reckless driving for eating behind the wheel, even though eating while driving is not illegal, per se.

So, is there a way to eat and drive and not be distracted? Of course there is. Most of us aren’t completely gluing both hands to the steering wheel at ten and two. When we’re driving, we have a free hand. We move around, we shift, we read billboards and signs, we change the radio. In short, we’re free to do whatever we like so long as it doesn’t interfere with safe, responsible driving. That means we’re free to eat so long as it’s done rationally. Here are my big rules for eating while behind the wheel:

Know Your Sandwiches

A sandwich that I almost always eat while driving comes from Roma Market in Pasadena. It’s an Italian cold cut, but here’s the important thing—there’s no lettuce, tomato, mayo, or really even any sauce on it. A Sicilian hoagie roll stuffed with mortadella, salami, capicola, and provolone comes simply dressed with olive oil, and it’s delicious. Because the sandwich is so simple, it’s perfect for eating and driving. There are no shreds of lettuce falling down on your lap, no tomatoes slipping off the sandwich, no mayonnaise to drip down and stain your pants. It’s the perfect hand-held experience. The only drawback? A Sicilian roll is often crumbly. If you’re driving, something soft and squishy is best to hold while driving. Honestly, a cheeseburger isn’t the worst thing in the world to eat while driving, so long as it doesn’t have a Big Mac’s worth of shredded lettuce and special sauce. Point is—know your sandwich. Some are just far too sloppy to eat on the open road.

No Ice Cream Cones

This might be controversial, but an ice cream cone in hot weather is just too engaging to eat while driving. It’s going to drip, and when it’s hot outside, it’s even hotter in your car. That means more drippage. You’re always doing damage control on an ice cream cone. It’s a race to lick every side equally so it doesn’t make a damn mess. And if it does drip while you’re trying to drive? You’ve got a problem, partner. No—park the car to eat an ice cream cone. Or, hey, here’s a better idea? Get a DQ Blizzard or something in a cup. Take a spoonful of that sweet, sweet soft serve medicine while you’re stuck in traffic.

No Powdered Sugar

If this one seems awfully specific, that’s because it is. I got some beignets from Café Du Monde in New Orleans some time ago, and ate them while I was driving. First of all, if you’ve never had Cafe Du Monde beignets, they’re iconic for a reason. They’re deliciously soft and sugary. Secondly, though, they’re covered in way too much powdered sugar to be eaten in a car. The car seat and floor were absolutely covered in powdered sugar by the time I was finished eating. Just resist the urge to eat anything with powdered sugar—doughnuts, cookies, muffins, etc.—while you’re driving. It’s too messy.

Forks Can Work, but Be Reasonable

This where a lot of people draw the line, but hear me out: Forks can work. Eating something with a fork while driving certainly has its own set of rules, but I’ve done it. For starters, you must be at a stop light. Certainly don’t attempt to eat a salad while driving on the 101. That brings me to my next point—no salads. For the love of God. I don’t know what would actually possess somebody to eat a salad while driving, but there are just far too many components to a salad, too many things that could go wrong. 

Here’s an example of me successfully using a fork while driving: I recently left a steakhouse and got a piece of key lime pie to go. Google Maps told me it was going to take 30 minutes to get home from Beverly Hills, and I just couldn’t wait for the pie any longer. I wanted it right then and there. So, I started to eat the pie while driving, getting a forkful of the deliciously sweet, creamy, and tart pie when I happened upon a stoplight or a bit of traffic. It was delightful, and it took the very frustrating, mundane activity that is driving in L.A. traffic and made it almost joyful. That’s the great thing about eating and driving—if you do it right, it actually improves the experience of driving. Eating and driving is all about using your discretion, and if you do it right, it’s an underrated, gladsome experience.

About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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