Playing Harp While Driving - Related News Article

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but I saw this
article over the weekend and thought it might add some
color to this long-running debate.  A bit long and no
specific mention of harp playing, but it does mention
a lot of other stuff done while driving plus a mention
of an insurance company's assessment of the most
distracting foods.

*  *  *  *  *

Caution: Drivers Eating
The New York Times  4 May 2003

WHEN I was a child my family drove to the Adirondacks
every summer. It was an eight-hour trip, and my mother
always made the same picnic for the car: fried chicken
and deviled eggs. There was a thermos of lemonade for
the kids, and for the parents there was a thermos that
held what until recently I had believed to be
martinis, but Mom insists they were whisky sours.

All six members of the family survived those trips,
and Americans have since recognized the dangers of
drinking and driving, and realized that seat belts are
an idea whose time has come. Surprisingly, though,
people still don't think twice about having a steering
wheel in one hand and a fried chicken leg in the
other, let alone a potentially explosive stuffed egg.
Dashboard dining is more popular than ever, with busy
families and commuters gobbling up snacks and often
full meals on their way to wherever they are rushing

A national study conducted by Nationwide Insurance in
July 2001 revealed that more than half of the 783
drivers surveyed said they had eaten a meal in the car
in the last three months while driving. More than 17
percent said they frequently ate while driving. Food
companies are coming up with ways to make unlikely
food more portable, like macaroni in a pushup tube and
spoonless applesauce. And car manufacturers are
designing vehicle interiors to cater to moveable

There is a reason insurance companies are interested
in these people. Keeping your eyes on the road while
juggling a dripping Big Mac or a Whopper can be a
safety hazard as well as a challenge.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission does
not keep specific records on how many accidents are
caused by eating in the car. Eating is included in a
category called "driver distractions," a group of
behaviors that the commission said is responsible for
25 percent of all car crashes.

In contrast, an great deal of attention has been paid
to the dangers of driving while talking on a
cellphone. Some 37 starts are considering bills that
would limit phone use in the car. For the last five
years, State Representative Richard Roy of Milford has
introduced legislation to ban the use of hand-held
cellphones in cars in Connecticut, so far without

"At least with the phone we have technology to help
mitigate some of the problem," said Mr. Roy, whose
sister was injured in an accident he said was caused
by a distracted driver. "I wish I could help people
drink their coffee more safely, too."

While no one is going to get ticketed for driving
while snacking anytime soon, the experts at the Safety
Commission see little difference between reaching for
the phone and reaching for a French fry.

"Cellular phones are just one of the modern ways to
get distracted while you're driving," said Tim Hurd, a
spokesman for the commission. "There are some
old-fashioned ways of getting distracted, too, like
yelling at the kids in the back seat, trying to adjust
your hair style in the mirror, but also eating. To the
extent that eating distracts you from the job of
driving the car, then it's a problem."

One insurance company, Hagerty Classic Insurance,
based in Traverse City, Mich., even issued a list of
the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving.
Fried chicken actually came in fourth, after
chocolate, soft drinks and jelly and cream-filled
doughnuts. The company began to research the risks of
driving while eating when it reviewed a claim in which
after numerous accidents related to food, a driver had
been warned against having anything edible in his

The company's report, which was released last year,
said that more food-related accidents happen in the
morning than the evening, because people are more
concerned about how they look on the way to work.
(Picture spilling coffee on your suit and the frantic
cleanup that follows while barreling down the Merritt
Parkway at 7:30 a.m.) Not surprisingly, the odds of
having a food-related accident can double in a stick
shift. And the most hazardous driving combination of
all: eating while talking on the cellphone.
Sgt. Paul Vance, with the Connecticut State Police in
Middletown, said he was amazed by what he saw people
doing in their cars.

"It boggles the mind," Sgt. Vance said. "When we had
tollbooths in Connecticut, we'd be observing traffic
in the toll, and more than one officer would say, 'did
you see that?' Good weather, bad weather, people try
to make up time by getting behind the wheel and doing
their personal hygiene in the car, putting on makeup,
eating, drinking, reading. It's a major concern."

Sgt. Vance said that one driver who was watching
television in his car drove his S.U.V. into the back
of a state trooper's car. In another case, a young
woman was killed while trying to change clothes while
she was driving. He said he has arrived at accident
scenes where drivers do not want to admit they were
distracted by food, but, he said, "there are telltale
signs when you've got a cup of coffee spilled all over
their body."

Mary Gambordella, a lawyer who commutes from New Haven
County to Stamford, eats on Interstate 95 frequently.
She is on a low carbohydrate diet, which can lead to
some challenging dashboard dynamics. For instance, Ms.
Gambordella often eats salads while driving, but has
learned from experience that putting food between your
legs is not a great idea. ("If you move your legs
quickly, it's a problem," she said.)

Instead, Ms. Gambordella covers herself with something
to protect her clothing and keeps the salad on the
passenger seat, dipping her fork across the front to
eat. She also eats sandwiches in the car, but because
she is avoiding bread, Ms. Gambordella tries only to
eat the insides.

"I'll hold that stupid piece of bread while I'm kind
of putting my face in the middle of the sandwich to
get out the stuff," she said. "I have my eyes above
the wheel - envision it like eating a pizza."

Ms. Gambordella doesn't consider this driving behavior
any worse than some other things she sees people do in
their cars. 

"I've seen people shaving on the road," she said. "I
saw a guy brushing his teeth once. I had a secretary
who put her pantyhose on while driving. I think my
eating a salad pales into comparison with that."

A remarkable amount of dexterity is required for the
kind of eating that Kris Schiavo-Breden of Stamford
does in the car. Like the time she was eating a
chocolate dipped ice cream cone while driving on a
warm day. 

"Needless to say, I had chocolate from the tip of my
head, all down the front of my shirt and I was trying
to clean the chocolate off with the bottle of water
and the napkin I was also holding," she said.

How did she manage to actually drive while performing
all these tasks?

"You lean forward and put your elbows on the steering
wheel," Ms. Schiavo-Breden said. "I've also used my
knees. I've used almost every part of my body to steer
the car."

The food industry has some answers for those who dine
at the wheel. A growing number of snacks are designed
to be eaten with one hand. Several companies package
foods like applesauce, pudding and yogurt in
squeezable tubes. 

Portable foods seem to know no bounds. Products like
macaroni on a stick and push-up scrambled eggs are
also on the market. Breakaway Foods of Columbus, Ohio,
has a product line called IncrEdibles, in which foods
like pasta and eggs (with or without bacon or sausage)
are packed into a microwaveable cardboard tube with a
push-up stick. Next in line for development: pizza on
a stick. The New York City research company Packaged
Facts predicted that the annual sale of hand-held
foods will reach $2.3 billion by 2004.

When children enter the equation, things can really
get messy on the road. The Fuentes family in Wilton is
typical of many suburban households: a lot of time is
spent in the car, ferrying three boys to their
activities. Between baseball, lacrosse, soccer and
tennis practices and games, as well as music lessons
for all three boys, meal times can get pushed to late
hours. Meg Fuentes, the boys' mother, gives them
bagels, juice boxes, chips and granola bars to tide
them over. 

All of these items can leave a trail of crumbs and
trash. Mrs. Fuentes said things were getting a little
better now that her boys, ages 16, 14 and 12, were
older. Their last vehicle, a van, "had gotten really
disgusting," she said. "When they were younger you
constantly had the gooey snacks and the candy and all
those little crackers and things." The van also had an
unstable cup holder, and Mrs. Fuentes' morning coffee
frequently sloshed onto the carpet. 

All this is good news to Joe Leduc, owner of Norwalk
Auto Shine, which does detail cleaning of cars.

"I've been doing this for 15 years and nothing shocks
me," Mr. Leduc said. "There's no set thing they eat in
their cars, they just eat in their car, period. Candy,
gum, French fries, pieces of bread, crackers, coffee,
soda, it's unbelievable, but the one good thing is, it
keeps us in business."

Michael White, who owns Experience Auto Spa in
Stamford had his own litany: "Ketchup from hot dogs or
French fries, fast-food wrappers, coffee stains, which
you need a special chemical to get out, Cheerios in
the S.U.V.'s, bananas, the windows that won't go down
because it stuffed with those melted taffy candies
down in there, the whole works."

Auto manufacturers are well aware that all this eating
is going on in their product and their approach seems
to be twofold: first, they warn against driving while
distracted, but, second, they try to accommodate
driver dining.

Roger Baywol, the director of interior design for
General Motors North America, spoke in a telephone
interview from his full-size Chevrolet pickup truck.
He noted that his truck not only had six cup holders,
but also had a flat space to the right of the
instrument panel where people could lay out their
food. The truck also has rubber mats, so that when
spills occur they can be hosed down.

Designers spend a fair amount of time thinking about
this issue, Mr. Baywol said. At General Motors,
engineers were working on developing dishwasher-safe
cup holders and glove compartments that include
cooling units. He said G.M. uses bold patterns in the
seat material of family cars so spills can be

Mr. Baywol added that designers have also played with
the idea of putting folding trays in the second and
third rows of minivans and S.U.V.'s, similar to what
is seen in airplanes. But safety concerns are
paramount, Mr. Baywol said. They prefer to put flat
areas for food in the center of the vehicle, not
directly in front of passenger seats.

"We're very concerned in putting too much in there
because when you're in a collision, there's no time to
stow your trays and put your seats in an upright
position," he said.
Not everyone feels compelled to munch through the
miles. Darren Stec of Stamford was at a drive-through
McDonald's late last month, but he swore he wasn't
going to eat his meal until he got to work.

"I see people scarfing food all the time in their
cars, but I need both hands to drive," Mr. Stec said.
"The most I'll do is if I'm stuck in traffic, I might
pop the top off the coffee and sip, but I'm not going
to put the sugar and cream in it. First of all, it's
500 degrees and second, it's just breakfast. It's one
of those things that can wait."
The New Yahoo! Search - Faster. Easier. Bingo.

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.