There’s nothing better than a quick trip through the Maccas drive-through for a cheeky burger on the way home, right? Even if it puts yourself, your passengers and other road users in danger, and could make a McRoyal mess of your interior when you inevitably drop a slice of saucy tomato on your seat.
- Eating while driving isn’t illegal
- You need to ensure you maintain car control
- Pull over for five mins to finish your burger – it might save you a lot of money
Research has found that while texting and driving is very distracting, trying to fill your gob with goodness can be just as distracting. Indeed, there is a chance that the umbrella term “distracted driving” could expand to include eating and driving in some jurisdictions.
There is no federal law on it, but here’s a rundown on the state laws that could affect you if you’re a motoring muncher.
NSW – Sydney
There is no specific law around eating while driving in New South Wales, but depending on the circumstances, a driver may be charged with negligent driving if they were deemed to be putting their own life and other people’s lives in danger.
The maximum penalty for negligent driving for a first-time offender is $3300, or 18 months imprisonment. You might also lose your licence for life, too.
Queensland – Brisbane
Eating while driving isn’t illegal in Queensland, but if things went very badly, you could be in strife.
A Facebook post by Queensland’s Transport and Main Roads department in late 2022 got a bit of attention, suggesting the road rule around “having proper control of a vehicle” could be interpreted in a way that, if you were driving, eating, and deemed not to be in control, or “driving without care and attention”, you could cop a bit fat fine.
The amount? $575 and three demerit points. The post alluded to the notion of only having one hand on the steering wheel, or looking away from the road ahead, as being the dangerous parts of that situation. “It’s best to pull over in a safe spot to savour that sandwich!”, the post concluded.
Victoria – Melbourne
The state with some of the most assertive rules for the road, and some of the most aggressive technology to catch people doing the wrong thing, hasn’t got a “sambo cam” just yet. And it isn’t illegal to eat while you drive there. Not yet, anyway.
South Australia – Adeliade
There is no specific law in SA about eating and driving. But there are rules that could be left open to interpretation, should something unexpected happen while you’re eating some leftover pizza on Hutt Street.
The state’s road rules handbook calls out distractions that can cause dangerous driving, including, but not limited to, eating, drinking, smoking and even talking to other passengers. The government’s Towards Zero Together initiative goes further, classifying the four main types of driver distraction:
- Visual – the things you see
- Auditory – the things you hear
- Physical – the things you do with your hands
- Cognitive – the things you think about
“To anticipate and avoid hazards on the road, drivers must give driving their full attention at all times,” a webpage from the SA government’s department of infrastructure and transport states. “Taking your eyes off of the road or diverting your attention even for just a few seconds can be fatal.”
ACT – Canberra
Driving without proper control – that’s the wording that could see you cop a $279 fine if you’re caught driving while eating and police deem you weren’t being as attentive as you could have been, namely losing control of your car. Go easy on the Kingsley’s in the Australian Capital Territory, then.
NT – Darwin
Ever seen someone eating a bowl of cereal while driving? I have, and so has Senior Sergeant Garry Smith, who told the Northern Territory News about it. He had a strong – arguably correct – opinion about chomping on corn flakes in your car: “Don’t do it – you do not have effective control of the vehicle,” he said.
The NT’s Driving Safety Checklist even has a dot point about it: “Take a break and pull over rather than eating, drinking, smoking or grooming when you’re driving.”
WA – Perth
Another case of Weet-Bix gone wrong. A woman in Perth was charged in 2018 for eating cereal while driving – well, actually, she was charged with driving without due care and attention. But that’s a pretty strong precedent to either eat your brekky before you leave home, or at least make it a piece of toast instead. She copped a $300 fine and three demerits.
Tasmania – Hobart
The Apple Isle is a mighty fine place to drive, and to dine, but don’t go doing both at once. There is a chance that, if you’re caught, you could be fined and lose demerit points for eating while driving. Again, it falls under the category of “having proper control of your vehicle” or “driving without due care and attention”, and the repercussions for your wallet will be a $173 fine and three demerit points.
Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.