Recently it’s been in the news about the proposed ban on smoking with children in the car that will come into effect in October 2015. If you smoke in a car that’s carrying a passenger between 0-17, even if you are not driving, you will be fined, and the proposed fines are steep – in the thousands.
While there are good reasons for this ban (300,000 children are admitted to doctors’ surgeries every year with illnesses related to second-hand smoke), should smoking in vehicles be banned completely? Does it do more than just endanger our health?
Does smoking increase the risk of having a car accident?
People that have been smoking as little as a few weeks can develop cravings for cigarettes. When a craving strikes, the smoker becomes anxious and irritable – two emotions that aren’t the best for driving as they can lead to a greater likelihood of becoming angry with other drivers or making rash manoeuvres through being impatient.
But let’s say that you’ve got some cigarettes with you and you want to light up in the car. First you need to locate your cigarettes. Can you do this without taking your eyes from the road? If your cigarettes are in your bag or glovebox you will need to reach over to get them. If they are in your pocket then you might have to adjust your seating position to access them.
Once you’ve got hold of the packet you then have to open it and get a cigarette out. Can you do this while keeping at least one hand on the wheel and while looking ahead? And while you are doing this, did you remember to check your mirrors for other vehicles around you?
Once you’ve got the cigarette out and you’ve put it in your mouth you’ve got to do something with the packet of ciggies. You could just chuck it on the seat next to you. If you want to put it in the glovebox or your bag, you might need to look away from the road again.
Now, where’s your lighter? Can you access it easily? Maybe you’ve got a car with a built-in cigarette lighter – did you remember to turn it on? To light the cigarette you’ve got to coordinate the lighter or the cigarette light from your car with the end of the cigarette and as you breathe in that first lungful of smoke, do you close your eyes just for that brief moment of pleasure? Then what are you going to do with your lighter or the still-hot cigarette lighter – you’ve got to get that back in the hole it came from.
Now you’ve got a lit cigarette. Is the car prepared for it? Do you need the air conditioning on to get rid of the smoke, or are you going to blow it out of the window? If you turn to blow it out of the window then are you still looking at the road? At best, you’re restricting your field of vision to the left.
You will need to get rid of the ash from the end of the cigarette. Do you do this out the window? Are you driving with one hand while your cigarette hand is out the window? Does this give you adequate control?
What happens if you drop ash on yourself or, worse, the lit cigarette?
When you’ve finished it, what do you do with it?
As you can see from the description, there are many, many opportunities for you to be distracted from your driving by one simple cigarette. In fact, an Australian study that videos drivers smoking found that the average time that the driver’s attention was distracted from the road was 12 seconds. At 30mph this is 160m travelled without you paying full (or any) attention to the road.
No wonder then that studies in Europe and America have found that smoking cigarettes while driving can be almost as risky as talking on a hand-held mobile phone. You’re up to 3 times as likely to have an accident as a smoker than a non-smoker. On a purely mechanical level, excluding the issues around long term debilitating diseases that could cause an emergency in your car (such as a heart attack or stroke), smoking dramatically increases your risk of having an accident.
If you aren’t ready to give up the smokes yet, you can always stop and take a break rather than drive while smoking. If you are ready to give them up and need some help, try getting in contact with Quit.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.