New law on smoking in cars “doesn’t go far enough”

It’s only weeks until the ban on smoking in vehicles carrying children comes into force

With the introduction of £50 fines for people who smoke in cars carrying children only a matter of weeks away, there’s appetite among the general public for a complete ban on smoking behind the wheel.

After 1 October, anyone caught smoking in a car carrying persons under the age of 18 is liable for a fine, a penalty that applies to both the smoker and the driver, a national car leasing company warns.

But enforcing the new law may be difficult in ‘borderline’ cases where police officers will have to guess the age of passengers, leading to Flexed.co.uk the car leasing company to call for a blanket ban on in-car smoking, which it calls one of the greatest safety risks on the road today.

“Aside from people using mobile phones behind the wheel, smoking is just about the greatest distraction there is for a driver,” Flexed.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall says.

“Drivers might think they’re totally in control despite the cigarette between their fingers, but it’s obvious to any observer that they’re not.”

It’s a view backed up by years of research. One scientific study showed that drivers are 1.5 times more likely to have an accident while smoking; while a survey carried out by major insurance company Allianz this year found half of drivers who smoked found that it led to distraction.

Flexed.co.uk hit the streets for a second time in a year to find out the public’s view on smoking in cars, and found that views among both smokers and non-smokers had hardened slightly since its last survey in 2014.

Asked by Flexed.co.uk whether they’d support a total ban on smoking in cars:
• 91% of non-smokers supported a ban (2014 figure: 89%)
• 73% of smokers supported a ban (2014 figure: 68%)

“We all know smoking is already forbidden in company-owned cars, lorries and vans,” said Hall, “it’s about time that the law was made the same for everybody. The public clearly want it.

“Although health is rightly a factor, it’s not just about breathing in poisons in an enclosed space. Plain and simple, the act of lighting and holding a cigarette and tipping the ash out of the window is a genuine safety issue,” the Flexed spokesperson says.

Flexed.co.uk said that using a phone while driving was rightly banned because authorities accepted that the distraction caused by driving one-handed while controlling a fast-moving machine weighing around one tonne was an unacceptable risk to the public.

“Smoking is very much the same thing,” says Hall, “And smoking was causing accidents years before mobile phones came along.”

The Yorkshire-based car leasing company believes that a total smoking ban would be easier for police to enforce, rather than having to determine whether any passengers are minors.

“Officers peering into back seats and having to guess the age of passengers, that’s hardly a profitable use of police time, is it?” Flexed’s Hall notes.

A total ban would also help put an end to other dangers and anti-social driving behaviours:

• Accidents caused by distracted drivers
• Anti-social littering and the poisoning of the countryside caused by thrown dog-ends and empty cigarette packets
• The potential for fires – both in-car and on verges – caused by dropped cigarette butts

“If there’s one thing we at Flexed really hate, it’s people throwing their lit cigarette ends out of their car windows,” says Flexed.co.uk ‘s Mark Hall, “I’d happily see people who do this being made to pick litter from grass verges.”

Such is the danger caused by smoking behind the wheel, Flexed has a simple message for drivers who persist in the habit: “If you’re that desperate, pull over and have a smoke in a lay-by or car park.

“Better still, give it up completely.”