Is it illegal to smoke or vape whilst driving?
Road Traffic Law has evolved significantly over the years with many proposed changes having come through to fruition. It is often difficult for motorists to keep track of new offences and it’s common that people end up being charged with an offence not knowing they’ve even committed one! This can be said for the rules around smoking as the offence was brought in by the Health Act as opposed to any road vehicle law making it a little more obscure for motorists.
Parliament approved regulations in 2015 that makes at an offence to smoke in a vehicle where there are children yet it doesn’t seem to be widely known (given the number of enquiries we receive about it).
The rules, if breached, can land you with a £50.00 fixed penalty notice as the rules attempted to crack down on children being exposed to passive-smoking.
When the changes were implemented, there was a question as to how police officers would enforce the regulations as it was suspected that many drivers would not be stopped should their child appear to be over 18 when in fact they are not. It therefore seemed likely that it would be those with smaller children who are targeted as stopping all vehicles with borderline children/adults in would simply be too time consuming. Statistics in 2017 suggested that this was exactly the case but then in 2018, the police issued further warnings about smoking and vaping and adopted a different approach.
Vaping Whilst Driving
The number of cigarette smokers has presumably fallen since vaping became a new trend and I myself have often seen motorists vaping behind the wheel.
Earlier this year, it was reported that police officers had issued warnings to vapers about the risk of being charged with careless driving and attracting penalties of “up to £2,500, three to nine penalty points and even a disqualification from driving”. This is however not exactly true. The reality is potentially even more serious now as the fine for careless driving was amended to “unlimited” meaning there is no upper cap on how much the court can impose.
Careless driving arises when the standard of a motorist’s driving falls so far below the driving of a “careful and competent” driver that it is considered careless. This can often be a momentary lapse of concentration (at its lowest) or driving that borders on dangerous (at its highest) and it usually involves an incident where your driving was affected such as if you swerved or clipped a bollard.
The risk vapers face however is that they could be smacked with a penalty even if their standard of driving wasn’t actually affected due to the huge plumes of smoke that are often discharge. When in a confined space such as your car, the smoke could easily obscure the windscreen and restrict your view, particularly if there were other factors affecting visibility present (i.e. rain, sun, poor lighting) .
If an officer sees you driving with a cloud of smoke around you, you can expect to be stopped and issued with a fixed penalty of 3 points and a £100.00 fine . All the officer needs to justify this is the view that you were distracted. It is difficult to argue against that unless you rejected the fixed penalty and took the matter to the Magistrates’ Court. If you’re feeling rather indignant about the penalty you may well consider that but you would then potentially be exposing yourself to much higher penalties as detailed above.
The courts generally adopt a strict view on any driving where the motorist can be distracted it would not be easy to persuade the court that the plume of vape around your head was not a distraction.
As ever, the safest thing to do is air on the side of caution as even though you may be gasping for a pull on your cigarette or vape, is it really worth risking a penalty or even causing an accident if the smoke impairs your ability to drive?