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Is Smoking While Driving an Offence?

By: Garry Crystal - Updated: 27 Jun 2017 | comments*Discuss
Smoking While Driving Offence Penalty

Smoking in enclosed public areas is becoming a rarity and it looks as if private vehicles may be the next anti-smoking target. There are some circumstances where smoking in vehicles is already an offence, and smoking can also be classed as a driver distraction.

The Law and Smoking While Driving

There have been many reports that smoking is to be banned in all vehicles. As of yet this has not become a reality for motorists in private vehicles but smoking in work vehicles is against the law under certain circumstances. One of the rules laid out in the smokefree law, introduced in 2007, was to outlaw smoking on public transport and work vehicles. Work vehicles used by more than one person at the same time must be smokefree at all times. It is also an offence not to display no-smoking signs on public transport or work vehicles.

Fines for Breaking Smokefree Laws

Smokers who do break the law by smoking in work vehicles are committing a criminal offence. Anyone who is caught smoking in a smokefree vehicle can face a £50 fixed penalty notice. The £50 fine may be reduced to £30 if it is paid within 15 days. If the offender is prosecuted and convicted in court this fine can be as much as £200. Failure to display no-smoking signs can mean a £200 fixed penalty notice or up to £1000 if convicted in court. Anyone who fails to control or stop someone smoking in a smokefree vehicle can face a £2500 fine if convicted in court.

Private Vehicles and Smoking

Smoking in private vehicles is not an offence. But if smoking is the reason for careless driving then this could be viewed by the authorities as an offence. The Highway Code has been updated to reflect this in section 148:Safe driving and riding needs concentration. Smoking can now be classed as one of the ways to distract a driver that may lead to careless or dangerous driving. If dangerous driving is proven then this could be an offence that leads to a prison sentence.

Smoking With Children in a Private Vehicle

There have been many calls from government officials and doctors to ban smoking in cars when travelling with children. Health groups have said that smoking in a car with children onboard is tantamount to child abuse. An Australian court did recently convict a woman who was smoking in a car with a three year old child. Some cities around the world such as Ontario have already introduced laws that ban smoking in cars that carry children. As of yet this is not an offence in the UK and it does not look as if this will be included in any forthcoming smokefree legislation.

Fines and Penalty Points for Smoking as a Distraction

Although all cases will be different there are fines and penalty points that can be imposed for breaching road safety regulations. A driver who is caught driving carelessly due to smoking can be charged with between three and nine penalty points. Other consequences for this driving offence could include a driving ban or a fine up to a maximum £2,500. Smoking while driving distractions can be compared to driving while using a mobile phone, although using hand held phones while driving is a specific offence.

Smoking and Littering While Driving

Littering is an offence that has taken many motorists by surprise. Throwing a cigarette out of a car window, whether it is moving or not, can end up with the motorist being fined. There have been many cases where motorists who threw cigarettes out of car windows or emptied ashtrays onto the street have ended up with fixed penalty notices. Drivers have been fined between £50 and £100 for this offence. A maximum fine of £2,500 could be applied to the offender if prosecuted and convicted in a court.

Many people do view these new anti-smoking rules and regulations as an erosion of privacy. For others it simply makes sense to protect children from smoke and to eliminate any driver distractions. If smoking is the cause of careless or dangerous driving then there could be very serious consequences for the motorist. Penalty points, a driving ban and even imprisonment may make smoking behind the wheel a very risky option.

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