Both smokers and drivers in the UK have been subject to significant changes in legislation in recent years. Whilst bans have been applied to both smoking in public places and using mobile phones while driving, it is still legal to smoke while driving a privately owned vehicle. However, many drivers are still unaware that smoking whilst driving can create distractions, health issues and be a significant contributing cause to both ill health and accidents.

Is Smoking at the Wheel Illegal?

Driving in the UK can be pretty stressful - and many will turn to a cigarette to help manage the frustrations of the clogged UK highways and byways. There are a few calls to bring in yet more legislation, however, it would be irresponsible for drivers not to consider the potentially dangerous combination of smoking and driving.

Some drivers who enjoy a smoke have already been subject to recent legislative changes. As a result of the 2006 Health Act, smoking has been banned in public places in the UK since 1st July 2007. This ban includes smoking while inside a vehicle defined as a public place or place of work, such as a company owned car, a taxi or a commercial van. This decision was taken in order to reduce health complications associated with the inhalation of second hand smoke.

Further changes sought a reduction in the number of road accidents. 2003 Saw the UK government introduce more changes in legislation, stating that any use of a mobile phone that doesn't include a hands-free device is subject to prosecution. Such prosecution can result in a fine, penalty points or, in extreme circumstances, a driving ban.

At the moment there is no specific legislation relating to the dangers of smoking whilst driving. However, the dangers are abundantly present, wide ranging and potentially devastating. Anyone considering smoking and driving should take into account the following considerations before sparking up whilst at the wheel.

Distracted Driving

Firstly, drivers should consider the potential distractions smoking can provide. Simply lighting a cigarette can require a driver’s hands to be taken from the steering wheel, and cause the driver to look away from the road. Studies suggest that around 1% of accidents are as a result distraction caused by smoking. Though this is a relatively low number, any accident can lead to serious injury or loss of life. The chance of distraction is increased significantly if the driver is attempting to roll a cigarette or even load a pipe with tobacco!

What happens when you drop a lit cigarette? Could anyone really argue that having a burning cig in your lap is not a distraction?

These distractions can also be caused by electronic cigarettes - fiddling with the case, putting an e-cigarette on charge and changing the filter can all lead to reduced concentration and lower reaction times.

Think about Your Passengers

In addition, smoking inside vehicle can lead to illness or allergic reactions for passengers. Similar to the factors that led to the UK’s 2007 restriction on smoking in public places, second hand smoke such as that inhaled by those sharing a car with a smoker is believed to potentially lead to long term illnesses and, in some circumstances, can accelerate the onset of some cancers.

Cigarette Butts

There are also potential dangers even after a cigarette has been finished. Discarding a cigarette butt can prove dangerous - even within a car, finding the ashtray can cause the driver’s attention ‘to be diverted. Getting rid of the cigarette out of the window can also provide a distraction, never mind the long term environmental impact of cigarette butts or even the danger of a fiercely flung butt hitting a passing cyclist.

 You can also be fined for littering every time you throw a cigarette end out of the car window, just so you know . . .