Eating behind the wheel hasn't been banned altogether, but could be considered "distracted driving."

By Elisabeth Sherman
Updated July 31, 2017
Washington driving law 
Credit: Vstock LLC / Getty Images

Washington is limiting how much drivers can eat and drink with the state's new distracted driving law. One food the law especially discourages drivers from indulging while behind the wheel? Cheeseburgers.

If eating a meal such as a cheeseburger causes you to drive erratically then the police can hand you a $99 citation. Eating the cheeseburger isn’t explicitly outlawed; rather the law allows police to ticket people who might be driving irresponsibly as result of their appetite.

“We would have to articulate how that cheeseburger caused that collision,” Washington State Patrol Capt. Monica Alexander said in a press conference about the new law, according to USA Today. “Eating a cheeseburger,” she continued, correcting herself. “The cheeseburger didn’t do anything.”

Law enforcement in the state tried to make it clear that they haven’t banned eating or drinking in the car, probably much to relief of busy parents and business people who only find time to grab a coffee or a snack en route.

“We’re not driving down the road looking for people drinking their coffee and driving perfectly,” clarified Capt. Alexander.

The $99 citation is known as a “secondary” ticket, which means that if you’re pulled over for driving illegally (swerving between lanes, for instance), and the cop sees a half-eaten burger sitting in your lap, he or she can ticket you for the original offense—and give you that secondary ticket for “dangerously distracted driving.”  The law also cites holding a dog in your lap, shaving, and applying cosmetics are as possibly hazardous distractions.

The Pacific Northwest state isn't alone in its concern that eating while driving makes for more dangerous roads: In 2016 New Jersey considered similar fines for snacking behind the wheel.

Washingtonians seemed to chafe against being told what to do in their cars (even though the state patrol has made it clear there is no ban on food in the car): Some of them recently launched a petition to change the law.

“As a working citizen and many others who commute long hours of driving throughout the state of Washington, I feel eating, drinking, and/or grooming should be a (citizen’s) right when behind the wheel,” it read.

For now, Washington seems to disagree: If your lunch is impairing your ability to drive, you'd better be ready to pay the price.