Don’t let your lunch be a crash diet… warnings about the dangers of eating at the wheel

6 October 2016

  • A third of drivers reveal they eat at the wheel
  • One in ten drivers admit suffering a near-miss because they were distracted by food

A new survey by Brake, the road safety charity and Direct Line has found a third of drivers questioned sometimes eat food behind the wheel. Just over a quarter of people (27%) have unwrapped and eaten the food and a third (33%) admit to eating food someone else has unwrapped for them.

The worst offenders are drivers aged 25-34. More than half (55%) in this age bracket admitting they have unwrapped and then eaten at the wheel, with just under a third of those admitting to doing it at least once every week.

Additionally, one in ten of the drivers who responded said they had been involved in a near-miss because they were distracted by eating food. A near-miss was classed as having to suddenly brake or swerve to avoid a hazard.

Research shows that drivers who eat and drink at the wheel are twice as likely to crash[i] and this risk may be even higher if the food is hot, messy or you have to unwrap yourself[ii]. Eating and drinking while driving diverts attention away from the driving task, increasing reaction times by up to 44%, meaning drivers will respond to hazards much more slowly. It also causes physical distraction, as at least one hand is off the wheel holding food or drink[iii].

While is not against to law to eat while driving it can become a crime if a person’s driving becomes distracted because they are unwrapping food or eating it. Driving without due care and attention or careless driving is a criminal offence, whatever the distraction. The maximum penalty for the offence is a driving ban.

Case study

Off-duty firefighter and dad of two, Joseph Wilkins was cycling when he was knocked down and killed on a country road near Abingdon in May 2012. The driver was eating a sandwich at the wheel and convicted of causing death by careless driving.

Joe’s partner Nicci Saunders said: "Joe was a kind, caring, loving, father and my best friend.  He was in training to cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats and had completed the same ride twice that week.  He went out on 24th May with a friend to do the ride again.  He kissed his two young children goodnight, kissed me goodbye and went out.  The next time I saw him he was lying dead in a road after being hit by a car at 60 miles an hour, breaking his neck.  To tell a two and a five year old that their daddy will never be coming home again is still the worst thing I have ever had to do in my life. 

Joe was cycling down a straight road on a beautiful sunny day when Paul Brown was distracted by eating a sandwich while driving.  He had over 13 seconds to see Joe, but didn't, and ploughed straight into his back wheel, killing him instantly.  The thought that he lost his life was inconceivable but to find out it was due to someone eating made it feel even more of a loss.  This just should not have happened.  

I see people all the time eating and drinking in cars and by doing this taking their eyes off the road.  Just a couple of seconds can take another person’s life and put hurt in to a family that never goes away.  It's been four and a half years now, yet he is still missed as much now as he was on that first day.  The girls, as they get older understand more what they are missing without having their dad around and all because someone couldn't wait to get home to eat.”

Alice Bailey, communications and campaigns advisor for Brake, said: “Imagining a distracted driver you may think of someone on a mobile phone, but many things can dangerously draw our attention away from the roads around us. In the fast-paced world we live in it is sometimes tempting to eat on the go, but drivers who are distracted by something else, even food, significantly increase their risk of causing a devastating crash. If you’re hungry, you probably need to take a short break from driving to eat and recuperate before continuing your journey when you’re not distracted by hunger or eating.”  

Gus Park, commercial director of motor at Direct Line said: "Whilst we appreciate people's busy lifestyles often dictate that we eat on the go and that a sudden pang of hunger can seem impossible to ignore, we urge drivers not to let their stomachs get in the way of good judgement and safe driving. If you really can't wait until you reach your destination to eat, then stopping off for a comfort break is a much better idea than eating at the wheel. Pit-stops provide a great opportunity to re-energise before the next leg of your journey."


Notes to Editors:

For more regional figures please contact Brake on

Five worst regions for eating and driving near-misses

  1. London                        28%
  2. Scotland                      17%
  3. North East                   13%
  4. East Midlands              13%
  5. West Midlands             12%

Full survey results

Q.1 Within the past year, have you eaten food you opened/unwrapped yourself while driving?

  Total % 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+
Yes, once a week or more 4.3 12.2 16.6 2.7 3.8 1.2 1.5
Yes, about once a month 6.8 8.5 25.8 9.6 5.3 3.4 1.5
Yes, less than once a month 3.4 11.3 1.9 4.4 2.0 5.0 0
Yes, once or twice 12.6 9.6 10.2 23.5 12.1 7.7 15.3
No, never 72.9 58.4 45.5 59.8 76.8 82.6 81.7
Average no. times 3.5 8.2 12.0 3.3 3.0 1.5 1.3

Q.2 Within the past year, have you eaten food opened/unwrapped and passed to you by a passenger while driving? 

  Total % 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+
Yes, once a week or more 3.4 5.3 19.9 3.4 1.0 1.7 0
Yes, about once a month 7.3 15.8 18.0 10.5 9.1 1.3 3.4
Yes, less than once a month 5.3 13.7 7.8 7.4 3.0 4.5 3.2
Yes, once or twice 17.8 14.1 11.8 25.4 18.9 17.0 16.6
No, never 66.3 51.0 42.6 53.3  68.0 75.5  76.8 

Q.3 Within the past year, have you had a near miss (e.g. had to brake or swerve suddenly to avoid a hazard) because you were distracted by food or drink?

  Total % 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+
Yes, more than once 3.3 7.1 16.8 3.1 3.4 0 0
Yes, once 7.0 17.1 23.9 12.7 4.1 2.7 0.5
No 89.8 75.8 59.3 84.2 92.5 97.3 99.5

This is a survey of 1000 people.

About Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity, founded in 1995, that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Follow Brake on TwitterFacebook, or The Brake Blog.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.


About Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England and Wales No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0345 246 3761 or visiting

Tags: research distraction