Article: You Want Fries with That Distracted Driving Charge?

Think of distracted driving, and you’ll probably get a mental image of someone talking on a cellphone behind the wheel, or a driver texting a message or fiddling with some electronic gadget. Chances are, you won’t think of a motorist chewing on a juicy burger – but that’s exactly what recently earned one driver a police citation for distracted driving.

On a mid-January afternoon, an Alabama man named Madison Turner pulled out of a McDonald’s drive-thru lane in Marietta, Georgia, with his order of a double quarter-pounder with cheese. Apparently, the take-out meal smelled too good for Turner to wait until getting to his destination to polish it off, and he began to dig in.

Two miles down the road, a Cobb County police officer pulled over Turner’s vehicle, told him he had been following him since he left McDonald’s, and wrote him a ticket for distracted driving. In the ticket’s comments section, the officer added a notation, “eating while driving.” Turner reported that the cop making the burger bust, who wasn’t talking when reporters later asked about the unusual charge, said three times during the traffic stop that Turner couldn’t “just go down the road eating a hamburger.”

Georgia’s distracted driving law requires drivers to “exercise due care,” and to refrain from “any actions” distracting from the safe operation of the vehicle. The prosecutor’s office admitted it would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt not only that Turner was engaged in an activity while driving, but also that the activity was distracting him, and the vehicle was being operated unsafely as a result.

Claiming he was not speeding or driving erratically, Turner said he was prepared to fight the charge at a court appearance scheduled for early February. But a few days before that, the chief local prosecutor said he doubted he could prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt, and agreed to dismiss the charge. A judge signed off on the move. Maybe they also thought Turner deserved a break that day.