It’s not illegal to eat a Big Mac while driving, but it is illegal if you become dangerous while chomping away. And you could get ticketed.

Various local police agencies are joining the CHP and police across the state and nation in stepping up enforcement on distracted driving throughout April.

CHP Officer Jon Sloat, spokesman for the Sonoma County office, said it’s not just drivers texting or using cellphones that get distracted. A variety of legal activities could quickly become illegal if you become distracted and start committing traffic violations, such as speeding, tailgating or cutting someone off. It’s easy to lose focus on your driving, he warned.

He said an officer recently ticketed a man who was reading the San Francisco Chronicle while driving in commute traffic for unsafe speed. The man protested and took his case to court, but the judge ruled that the safe speed for reading a newspaper while driving is zero mph. Pay up. (Or better yet, get The Press Democrat at home.)

“Eating a sandwich is not going to get you a ticket, but it will if you’re tailgating,” Sloat said.

As part of the extra enforcement, Sloat said the CHP will be using grant money from the state Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Safety Administration to pay for extra officers to be out on the county’s roads in April, specifically looking for distracted drivers. He said the number of shifts devoted to the enforcement had yet to be decided.

Sloat said officers also will be visiting schools, senior centers, community centers and other community organizations to give presentations on the dangers of distracted driving. If your group is interested, call Sloat at the Rohnert Park office at 588-1400.

Among other local agencies participating in the enforcement are the Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Sonoma State University police departments.


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  1. Sal

    Sounds like another excuse cops can use to yank people over and harass them. I personally think ANYONE driving with a god damn DOG on their lap need to be ticketed. I agree doing anything other then driving is a distraction. But, when people are being ticketed for eating while driving, and calling it “driving erratically” is non-since. Just another way they will always bend the laws to suit their needs .

    March 29th, 2012 6:51 pm

  2. bradpipal

    I ‘d rather take the funds for repairing unsafe roads than looking for scofflaws…THe roads are more dangerous and wear out your tires and suspension prematurely due to failure to maintain safe highways…Go figure, fix the highways and roads first…Then go play cop….Ok?..b

    March 29th, 2012 8:59 pm

  3. ben aronoff

    Good gawd..

    March 29th, 2012 9:20 pm

  4. wango fango

    “Eating that Big Mac while driving could get you a ticket…”
    Yeah, a toe-tag at the morgue…..it’s called food poisoning.

    March 30th, 2012 3:26 am

  5. Beef King

    Why don’t officers stop tailgating in the first place, regardless of other behavior?
    When I asked this question of the Sonoma County sheriff the answer was: they tailgate drivers to encourage them to get out of their way since they are not allowed to break laws in passing cars, that they are subject to the same laws as I am, and therefore must tailgate to get people out of their way if they are in a hurry but not allowed to use their lights and siren.
    So the sheriffs needs to endanger drivers by tailgating them.

    March 30th, 2012 6:34 am

  6. KarenTS

    What a sensationalistic headline! Is the Press Democrat emulating the Huffington Post? I really thought that eating while driving was going to be outlawed…

    March 30th, 2012 7:31 am

  7. Cranky

    The food sniffing dog at the checkpoint detected the characteristic odor of French fries, justifying a tear-down search of the vehicle for crumbs, salt, and soda residues. Subject was placed under arrest when a petrified Skittle was located under the front passenger’s seat.

    March 30th, 2012 7:40 am

  8. Mechazawa

    What about if you have a noisy kid in the back seat? Those are pretty distracting. Is it illegal to drive with a child in your car, now?

    March 30th, 2012 8:47 am

  9. Kyle

    I understand that people start getting hurt when they think their rights are being taken away by the man, especially the right to eat and drive. I personally think cops go too far, but in this I side with the law. Its not the action that is getting you in trouble, its the fact that your driving like an ——-.

    Also, I would not want my kid playing on the street with someone eating Big Macs and driving…because a good Big Mac gets everywhere/ takes complete concentration and I refuse the think about someone who wasted their money on a bad, unmessy burger. I dont want to live in that world.

    March 30th, 2012 9:02 am

  10. ken christiansen

    yep, going to senior centers, schools, and community centers seems to be the best way spend money and communicate to people that are not the problem. we could add a special tax to carry out services, and or maybe install devices in a car that would tell you if your head was plus or minus 10% of vertical, maybe eye tracers would work.

    at the end of the day, you have people that are not focused, dong silly things. dmv should require education and retesting for licenses every time you renew, and a specific review at that time. if you took the test 40 years ago, that’s not good enough for driving now. then get rid of high priced cops, and replace with lower paid people with some good technology – and if you’re tracked a few times doing something habitually bad, you get a invitation to explain and an opportunity to correct the problem

    March 30th, 2012 9:21 am

  11. dpolos

    Maybe they should concentrate on single drivers in the carpool lanes first

    March 30th, 2012 10:10 am

  12. RpMama

    I was rear ended by a distracted driver who was eating a hamburger. I was stopped at a light for more than 3 minutes and he rear ended me at 40 mph. The driver when he got out profusely appologized for hitting me, admitted that he was eating lunch and he looked down to fetch a piece of lettuce that had fallen off of the burger causing him to not see stopped traffic in front of him. In turn he smashed his big truck in to the back of my car.

    Any distractions, eating, drinking, dogs on laps, balloons, cell phones, putting on make-up, all of these things have potential for causing accidents. A driver who takes their eyes off the road to pick up spilled food, sop up a beverage that splashed up, pushing balloons back, stopping dogs trying to get out of windows, and weather or not your mascara looks good all have potential for accidents. These distracted drivers tailgate, speed and rear end people all of the time. It is about time that officers step up and acknowledge that tailgating is dangerous and illegal, so are weaving in and out of traffic, failure to stay in a single lane and driving at unsafe speeds.

    March 30th, 2012 10:43 am

  13. Bzzitch

    @dpolos – Why? Beyond the fact it’s an exuberantly expensive ticket, it poses NO safety risk what-so-ever and on our congested highways only goes to increase traffic flow.

    Ever realize that 101 is really only painfully slow during the “carpool hours” and magically flows better after 9AM or 6:30PM? Sonoma County is far too spread out for carpooling to be effective. Not to mention we have one of the only 3 lane highways with one being a dedicated HOV lane. These lanes need to be completely abolished.

    March 30th, 2012 10:50 am

  14. Brad

    That person that got the ticket for reading the newspaper, the judge would have had to accept his argument in court and find him not guilty IF he would have paid a lawyer to stand next to him and give the excuse. Court rooms are private clubs for lawyers (over priced parasites) and you will get no respect if you dare to enter without paying for your “justice”.

    March 30th, 2012 11:38 am

  15. gweedore

    Where is this grant money coming from? I thought we had fallen on hard times with all the educational cuts, service cuts, laying people off left and right…have I missed something? who is funding this fast becoming Police state?

    March 30th, 2012 12:31 pm

  16. Jesse

    “to pay for extra officers to be out on the county’s roads in April, specifically looking for distracted drivers”…

    Shouldn’t this already be all officers duty anyways?

    March 30th, 2012 3:03 pm

  17. Pat

    Well, yeah. It’s not about texting, eating, or whatever….it’s about not paying attention. I personally find it too demanding to eat a burger while driving. I munch on the fries on the way home.

    March 31st, 2012 11:19 pm

  18. Pat

    Pretty stupid to pick up a piece of lettuce while coming up on someone’s bumper. There may be a safe time to grab something, depending on where it fell, but OMG, not when coming to a stop in traffic. Priorities anyone? Yep that piece of lettuce couldn’t wait…

    March 31st, 2012 11:24 pm

  19. Safedriver

    I haven’t had a Big Mac for over a year, but now it sounds good!

    April 2nd, 2012 5:20 am

  20. Murse

    Why don’t we treat cell phone use like eating a big mac. We should be pulled over only when we are showing signs of being distracted. Why are cell phones different?

    April 5th, 2012 7:42 pm

  21. Ronald McDonald

    Fry sniffing dogs.

    October 14th, 2013 12:53 am

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