Many Virginia residents may not realize that eating and drinking on the road can be as much of a distraction as calling and texting. There are three categories of distractions, and they are cognitive, visual and manual. The first takes a driver’s mind off the road, the second the driver’s eyes from the road and the third the driver’s hands from the steering wheel. Eating and drinking can easily become all three types.

A study conducted in 2014 by the telematics company Lytx found that drivers run a 3.6 times higher risk of getting into an auto accident if they eat or drink behind the wheel. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates, eating or drinking from an open container makes a driver nearly 39% more likely to be in a crash or near-collision.

The unwrapping of packages, the holding of food and the use of napkins all contribute to inattention. Some food and drink items are more of a threat than others. In its top 10 list of the most dangerous foods and drinks, the NHTSA mentions chocolate, tacos, hamburgers, barbecued foods, soup, coffee and soft drinks.

Drivers should avoid eating and drinking altogether when possible. When it’s not possible, such as during long trips, drivers could satisfy their craving after safely pulling over.

It should be kept in mind that distracted driving is negligent driving. Drivers who cause a crash because they were eating will be held liable. As for those who were injured, they may pursue a personal injury case, but they must not share even 1% of the fault. Otherwise, under Virginia’s pure contributory negligence rule, they have no valid case. To see if their case holds up, victims may consult an attorney. Legal representation may be helpful during the negotiation stage as well.