Eating on the Run

We all do it.  We know we shouldn't, but we do it anyway.  No, we're not talking about cheating on taxes or enjoying the Paris Hilton hamburger commercial; we're talking about eating while we drive.  As bad behavior goes, it's not up there with murder or stepping on a sidewalk crack, but eating at the wheel is not a good thing.  It can distract you from the important task at hand, namely, driving, and no one knows how many spilled soft drinks and errant plops of mustard have caused accidents on the highways.

So given the fact we know eating in our cars can be bad, why do we still do it?  Time crunch is the major reason.  Traffic is routinely more congested these days, and people are spending more time in their vehicles than ever.  The average American spends more than 100 hours commuting to work each year.  This leads to the desire to multi-task, i.e. drive and chow down simultaneously.  A recent study shows that nearly a third of Americans (30 percent) eat in their cars at least once or twice a week.

So given that many of us will continue to eat the occasional snack or meal on the move, how does one limit the potential distraction of dining and driving? One way, of course, is to dine in the car only as a passenger, letting another take the wheel during those key times when food is being ingested.  Of course, eating in the car even as a passenger still has its drawbacks -- mess, smell and clutter being among them.  But for the first time a consumer study -- The Dashboard Dining Index Study conducted by Kelton Research -- has attempted to rate the messiness, convenience and portability of "on the go" menu items found at leading quick-service restaurants.  Study participants were randomly selected at "drive-thrus" and then surveyed after eating a specific menu item as a passenger in a moving vehicle.

While 68 percent of Americans say they eat in their cars to save time, they also have concerns about messiness, trash or spills that come along with eating on the go.  In fact, 37 percent of respondents cited messiness and spills as their primary concern while eating in the car.  Happily another 33 percent cited safety.  

The survey, which was funded by Taco Bell, also examined various menu items from the top chains including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway.  Not surprisingly, Taco Bell's new Crunchwrap Supreme, which was designed specifically for in-car eating, led the way among those surveyed as the most "Perfect to Eat-On-The-Go" menu item.  McDonald's Chicken McNuggets finished second and Subway's tuna wrap was third.   

The vast majority of car passengers (85 percent) agreed they could eat the Crunchwrap Supreme with only one hand, and it was a leader in that category along with Wendy's Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger.  What consumers decided to do with their free hands in this scenario was left tactfully unsurveyed.  When it came to mess, Chicken McNuggets, largely because of its dipping sauces, required the most napkins.

Lesson to be learned?  Don't get any on you.  Don't say we didn't tell you how.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini doesn't just eat in his car; he eats almost constantly, because he's so good at it.