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Eating and drinking at the wheel doubles crash risk

Tests have revealed that drivers are almost twice as likely to crash when eating or drinking as when driving normally. And although drivers try to compensate for eating and drinking by driving more slowly and carefully, they are often unable to brake in enough time to avoid a collision.

Privilege's study found that drivers' mental workload was significantly higher when eating or drinking, suggesting that the consumption of refreshments reduces a driver's ability to deal with other events. So, although drivers were slowing down and steering more consistently they were still not compensating enough to avoid a crash.

The experimental research was conducted on a Driving Simulator to uncover just how distracting eating and drinking at the wheel can be. Participants were asked to drive an urban route once without eating, and once while eating from a bag of sweets or drinking from a bottle of water at two intervals, coinciding with a pedestrian stepping into the road.

The total number of crashes doubled during the food and drink trial. Nine in ten occurred at the point the driver was eating sweets or sipping water, resulting in a collision with a pedestrian.

Dr Mark Young, a researcher lecturer from Brunel University, who carried out the study on behalf of Privilege explains:

“The results of our experiment strongly indicate that eating or drinking while driving increases the risk of a crash. Drivers may not perceive the risk to be any higher than other menial in-car tasks, but the impaired reactions combined with the increased workload suggest drivers should exert caution.“

The research also reveals that eating and drinking at the wheel is more common than using the outlawed hand-held mobile phone - three quarters of drivers eat and drink at the wheel, compared with just a third that use a mobile phone. It is also seen as lower risk - equivalent to putting on a seatbelt or sneezing.

Kate Syred, Commercial Director of Privilege Insurance, commented:

“These results are extremely worrying as they suggest that consuming food or drink while driving has a similar effect on driver workload and reaction times as using a hand held mobile phone, which is of course now banned.

“In light of our research, we advise drivers to keep eating and drinking to times when the vehicle is safely parked. Not only will this ensure drivers don't fall foul of the laws prohibiting driving without due care and attention, but it will ensure our roads are as safe as possible for pedestrians and other road users.“

Privilege specialises in offering highly competitive insurance for safe drivers, with a guarantee to beat renewal quotes for any driver with 4 years + no claims discount. For a competitive Privilege quote, telephone 0845 246 8336 or visit