Let's get this straight: I have never texted while driving (though I've used the phone), and I almost never eat while driving. It's too messy, not to mention far too distracting. I remember trying to gulp down a gooey Burger King veggie burger on the New Jersey Turnpike once, and having a miserable time of it.
But multitasking in the car is what Americans do, and eating (and drinking!) is a big part of that.
Americans eat in the car far more than any other nationality, and that's one reason European automakers had such difficulty getting our need for cupholders straight. They don't have Big Gulps over there. A Kennewick, Wash., car thief who recently ran a stolen pickup truck into a ditch and crossed a bunch of lawns before hitting a house was both texting and eating.
A study from 2009 says that 80 percent of all car accidents (and 65 percent of near misses) are caused by distracted drivers who, the Daily News says, are "more focused on their burgers than the road." According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Distractions like eating can become a problem for drivers who can't react quickly to a sharp curve." Burgers are the worst thing to eat while driving, a survey says, and I concur! Veggie burgers aren't any better than regular burgers.
I have trouble even managing a drink with a top and a straw in the car, and rarely do it. But I'm abnormal, I know. Every car has cupholders, and the Toyota Siena minivan has eight. A relative of mine who should go nameless has a huge plastic container in every cupholder, some of them sprouting interesting spore cultures.
This video captures everything that's wrong with eating in the car, as a driving girl tries to eat drippy ice cream on a stick. Notice how she keeps looking down to see if she got anything on her shirt?
"At some point during the last decade, my car turned into a picnic table," laments the New York Times' parenting writer KJ Dell'Antonia. "A place for snacking, munching and lunching ... Today's cars are designed with this purpose in mind." The Honda Odyssey even has a "cool box storage area" for snacks, and a pop-up trash bag holder. I learned firsthand about how having kids turns your carpet into an abstract canvas of smashed Goldfish and Cheerios — my kids eat in the car, even if I don't.
It's unlikely that anything will change Americans' auto eating habits, but here's something that will give you pause — it increases your chance of getting food poisoning. A 2010 survey by British auto accessories retailer Halfords found that 70 percent of the folks surveyed eat in the car, and half admitted to leaving food in the car (like that relative of mine). In the summer, the car's interior bakes and all the bacteria (staphylococcus and bacillus cereus, among the culprits, the survey says) starts to multiply. The microbes get all over the door handles, shift knob, radio and steering wheel. And who cleans these things the same way they swab down the kitchen table?
I'm sticking with having the car be a food no-go zone. I won't crash and I won't get sick, which seems like a good tradeoff to the instant gratification of eating everywhere and anywhere.
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