Since when is eating in the car illegal?

OTTAWA — It is not actually illegal to eat chicken while driving on the Queensway in Ottawa.

It is probably not even illegal to have a live chicken in the car, or a small flock, or to be plucking a bird, as long as you’re not calling it on a hand-held phone or reading a text it pecked out to you from the back seat. That’s an offence, dummy.

Funny are the laws we make.

There is much clucking about the poor unfortunate, Michael Gibson, who was pulled over and charged with careless driving for apparently trying to eat a drumstick while making his way down the 417.

It was in a bowl, we are told, which shows premeditation, and he was using his knees to help steer, which shows innovation. And it was “rotisserie chicken,” which shows that beneath the hard-bitten exterior of our cop reporter, there is an angry food critic.

(Is “fried chicken” somehow safer for a traveller? It remains to be answered.)

Mr. Gibson, 58, was charged with careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act: not dangerous driving; not distracted driving, which deals only with hand-held devices.

Careless driving is defined, in the law books, as the act of a person who “drives a vehicle or street car on a highway without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway.”

See? Nothing about chickens. Can you safely eat a drumstick while still paying “due care and attention” to the road? Probably so. We put a man on the moon.

Truth be told, the whole world is guilty of careless driving. How many people at this moment are driving while trying to bend back that stupid tab on the plastic lid of a cup of hot coffee? Or fishing around for that last Timbit or piece of gum? Or screaming at the kids?

Cars are like moving kitchens these days. Drink holders, cooler compartments, doodads from Canadian Tire that let you heat things, bake things, make coffee, microwave stuff, watch movies — all by plugging into the car lighter. Possibly, you can actually “rotisserate” a chicken while driving.

To the point, doesn’t everyone eat in the car sometimes?

I used to cover the Ottawa Valley for the Citizen, a job that took me all over the place by car. Probably twice a week, for 10 years, lunch was in the moving vehicle. When you’re on deadline, believe me — and there is no real law against it — you will eat a Quarter Pounder as you hightail it back from Cornwall, because it’s 20 minutes gained.

As a society, it is just the way we roll. We roll with buns. Did we not perfect the drive-thru?

Motorists are disregarding the cellphone law with regularity, of course. Everybody can see this with their own eyes.

Police are not standing idly by, but getting more inventive in their enforcement techniques.

In mid-April, police dressed as civilians pretended to be panhandlers at a Bank Street intersection. The crafty cop carried a sign that did not read “Will arrest you for food,” but warned: “I am Const. X of the Ottawa Police Service. If you are talking on your hand-held cellphone then you are about to get a ticket.”

In just over eight hours of enforcement, 97 such tickets were issued, at $155 per. Surprisingly, 143 tickets were written for other offences.

OPP Const. Rheal Levac has been fielding calls about the chicken caper.

He confirmed there is no law that says you cannot eat chicken while operating a motor vehicle. Nor is there a law that says you cannot drive with your knees, as is suspected in this case.

“There’s no law that says you have to drive with your hands.”

The problem in this case, he said, was the driving behaviour that ensued: following too close, improper lane change, not staying within lane-markings.

He acknowledged that officers see snacking, sipping motorists all the time.

“You can have your cup of coffee, your cookie and a muffin on the side. People have their bagel, when they kinda reach for it with one hand, drive with the other hand,” said Const. Levac.

“You are distracted, it might take away a little bit, but your driving behaviour is not always going to change.”

Next week is National Road Safety Week. Look for enhanced enforcement on the roads.

Ottawa police Sgt. Al Ferris said distracted driving will again be a focus. He said officers will disguise themselves as construction workers, city workers, even lawn-chair sitting traffic counters in an effort to catch people using hand-held devices.

Be not distracted, hungry people. It is motoring most fowl.

An Ottawa man was charged with careless driving Tuesday when the OPP pulled him over on the Queensway. Police said the man was eating chicken, steering with his knees, weaving, tailgating and changed lanes without signalling.
Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, The Ottawa Citizen