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Blog: Should smoking while driving be banned for road safety?

A man smoking in a carShould smoking while driving be banned? It's not against the law but some would argue it is just as dangerous as driving while using a mobile phone - which IS illegal.

Two hands are better than one, or so the saying goes.

But it's not a saying that many motorists seem to take notice of, judging from the number of drivers who can be seen with one hand on the wheel, a cigarette in the other.

Get your goat

Now, this might get your goat, but unlike using a mobile phone behind the wheel, smoking while at the wheel isn't illegal.

It has been against the law to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving since 2003.

If police catch you talking on your mobile or, even worse, texting, you can expect at least a £60 fine and three penalty points.

Some say smoking at the wheel should be similarly legislated against - not on health and safety grounds, but because of the increased danger to other road users.

And there is evidence to substantiate that having one hand on the wheel due to smoking is dangerous.

Reaction times

Research carried out earlier this year on behalf of car insurance firm esure found that having one hand on the wheel does increase the time it takes a motorist to react to the unexpected.

But this increased reaction time wasn't only restricted to those having one hand on the wheel due to smoking - it applied to having one hand on the wheel while carrying out any other activity.

This included eating, drinking and even changing the radio.

On this basis, I don't see how it would be fair to legislate against motorists who smoke while driving, as you’d have to outlaw drinking at the wheel, eating at the wheel and so on – and that's completely unworkable.

Imagine the manpower (police power?) needed to watch out for motorists breaking the law by smoking, eating or drinking at the wheel!

Existing legisation

However, maybe what's needed is for motorists to be educated on existing legislation that covers driving with one hand on the wheel.

Why? Because esure's research also revealed that 79 per cent of motorists do not understand the legislation around driving with one hand on the wheel.

And 32 per cent are not sure whether eating while driving is an illegal activity while a further 27 per cent were unsure of the rules around smoking.

Due care & attention

Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller is a senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences.

"Smoking at the wheel is not a specific motoring offence," she says.

"However, like many other legal activities such as drinking, eating, reading a map or doing your makeup, if you choose to do these while driving, arguably you could be considered to not be in proper control of your vehicle or be driving without due care and attention.

"I am not convinced there is a need to introduce a specific motoring offence for smoking at the wheel."

What do you think?

Should smoking behind the wheel be banned? Is this any worse than having one hand on the wheel due to eating, drinking or fiddling with the radio?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on the message board below.

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick covers all things consumer for She started out on a weekly newspaper, via a national news agency and a stint in the fun but ‘not as glamorous as it appears on screen’ world of TV at the BBC researching consumer films for The One Show.

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