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Eating while driving might be driving without due care and attention

When eating at the wheel becomes driving without due care and attention

You may have read the news story this week about a BC driver caught eating with chopsticks while at the wheel. The story raises the issue of what constitutes the offence of driving without due care and attention.

Police caught a woman driving with a bowl in her left hand and chopsticks in her right. She was using the bowl hand to steer and the other to put food into her mouth.

This blog will examine the reasons why driving without due care applied in this instance.

Section 144: Driving without due care and attention

Section 144 of the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) establishes that you have a responsibility as a driver to exercise all the care and attention necessary to be safe on the road.

Driving without due care and attention is a catch-all for several driving infractions. Despite the law’s vague wording, over the years case law has established when it does and does not apply.

It is considered a serious offence and the penalties reflect this. Those convicted of it are liable to receive six penalty points and a $368 fine. Other knock-on consequences include driver risk premium and an automatic auto-insurance increase. A judge, justice of the peace or the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles may also issue a driving prohibition to those convicted of the offence. The only other MVA offence which gets close to it is excessive speeding. It is one removed from a criminal charge for dangerous driving.

Eating at the wheel

So what is and what isn’t driving without due care and attention? Does eating at the wheel count? Well, yes and no.

The aforementioned driver was driving in four lanes of traffic, speeding and eating with chopsticks out of a bowl. She argued she was 10 km/hr over the speed limit. The judicial justice, however, pointed out: “The law is that 1 km/h over the speed limit is speeding.”

The driver argued she had safe control of the vehicle. She said she was able to handle the steering wheel with the same hand she was using to hold the bowl.

What the judicial justice said

Unfortunately for her, The judicial justice (JJP) said a person should not be “multi-tasking while driving. The JJP said: “Holding a bowl in one hand and using chopsticks in the other hand to eat while driving, even if three fingers of the hand holding the bowl were in contact with the steering wheel, is not giving one’s full attention to driving.”

The JJP found the driver guilty of the offence. But does this mean all eating at the wheel is illegal? The JJP said not all eating at the wheel is driving without due care and attention.

The judicial justice said: “The minimum standard of a reasonable and prudent person … would be to have at least one full hand on the steering wheel while the vehicle being driven is in motion. The hand that is on the steering wheel should not also be holding some other object.”

So, you can eat and drive in BC, but only handheld foods. Anything that you can hold in one hand is acceptable. The caveat to this is it also depends on the conditions. If you are eating while driving in heavy rain, for example, you could be convicted of driving without due care and attention. The conditions may require you to have both hands on the wheel and avoid distractions such as eating.

Defending a driving without due care and attention charge

Driving without due care and attention is a serious charge. As we have seen, the consequences for the driver can be severe. For this reason, it is wise to hire an experienced driving lawyer to help you with your case.

The BC Driving Lawyers have successfully defended this violation and we are prepared to defend you in court. Call us on 604-608-1200.