Q: Is it true that you aren’t allowed to eat while driving within the city limits of Tacoma? Derrick N., Tacoma
A: Believe it or not, it’s true.
No drinking either, even if your beverage of choice in non-alcoholic.
An online search turned up the Tacoma Municipal Code, which includes section 11.05.130. It states:
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“It is unlawful for any person to operate any vehicle upon the public highways of the City of Tacoma while eating any food or drinking any beverage.”
Unable to believe our eyes, we contacted City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.
Say it ain’t so, counselor. Surely we misread the code or stumbled across an outdated copy?
Afraid not, she replied.
“The section that you cite is indeed in our current code,” Pauli wrote in an email. “So yes, it is still the law in Tacoma.”
Lordy, we thought, remembering all the fries we’ve gobbled after pulling away from the Ivar’s drive-through down by Tacoma Community College.
We breathed a sigh of relief when police spokeswoman Loretta Cool told us she doesn’t think Tacoma’s finest are handing out tickets to folks munching a Frisko Freeze burger at a stoplight.
But Cool warned that eating while driving might draw the flashing blue lights if a motorist commits a traffic transgression while doing so.
“It is called distracted driving,” she said. “If you drive erratic because you drop a fry and try to pick it up or spill ketchup, etc., you can be ticketed for distracted driving. Eating food can be the reason, as well as drinking coffee, looking at GPS, using and phone and so on.
“I have cited one person for eating while driving,” Cool went on. “I cited them for distracted driving as they crossed the lane line several times, and I could see it was food they were attempting to eat causing the problem.”
We checked with a couple other local jurisdictions for their rules. Neither Puyallup nor Lakewood has a law formally prohibiting noshing while driving.
Puyallup police Capt. Scott Engle said the closest things on the books in Fair Town is the “inattentive driving” section of the municipal code.
It prohibits driving that “can be described as showing no interest; careless; negligent; thoughtless; unmindful; unobservant; heedless; absentminded; distracted; unaware; lax; or slack.”
Same in Lakewood, according to Lt. Chris Lawler.
“If you can eat and drive safely, we won’t stop you for that,” Lawler said. “But if I saw somebody weaving all over the road while trying to navigate their Big Mac, I’d pull them over.”
The easiest course of action might be to keep culinary and vehicular pursuits separated. Being a good driver is hard enough without increasing the degree of difficulty.