Smoking in cars a burning issue

Ther question of whether smoking should be allowed while driving, regardless of whether children are

Ther question of whether smoking should be allowed while driving, regardless of whether children are in the car, needs serious consideration. - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Motoring editor Andy Russell suggests smoking while driving should be stubbed out altogether for the sake of road safety as well as health.

Smoke gets in your eyes according to the classic hit song... and that's the last thing you need if you are at the wheel of a vehicle and trying to keep your eyes on the road.

I used to smoke and thought nothing of lighting up in the car and shudder when I recall the scary moments and near-misses I had when my eyes were watering or I was groping on the floor for a smouldering fag end I had dropped.

Just as bad was cleaning the car's interior and trying to freshen it up when you sold it. I once spent ages getting rid of traces of nicotine only to sell my car to a smoker... who lit up as they drove off!

That's by the by but it brings me to the hot topic of smoking in cars.

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I'm not one of those reformed smoker, fresh-air freak zealots, but I struggle to understand how you can be fined for using a handheld mobile phone while driving but it's not actually an offence to smoke, snack or slurp while at the wheel.

Admittedly, while eating, drinking and smoking while driving are not illegal in the UK, police can charge drivers with careless driving if they feel they are not in control of their vehicle as a result. This is in contrast to more specific laws which exist around other potential distractions such as mobile phones – the use of which attracts an instant penalty.

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But research shows reaction times of motorists eating or drinking while driving are slower. Another problem with doing things that involve taking a hand off the steering wheel is it can cause you to swerve or drift across the highway, while drivers take their eyes off the road to reach or unwrap items.

Surely it would just be easier and, ultimately, safer to take the hand-held mobile phone approach and just ban all these activities. A little heavy-handed you might say but it would promote safety and stop some seemingly ludicrous situations that make the news.

Only this month we had the story of a woman taking a sip of a Slush Puppie while stuck in a late-morning traffic jam in south London. A police officer who saw her called back-up from three more officers and the woman ended up with a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points on her licence.

A total ban would probably go down well with road safety charity Brake.

Julie Townsend, Brake's deputy chief executive, has warned drivers not 'to treat our cars as an extension of our kitchen or bathroom', following a survey in which 62% of respondents admitted to eating while driving and 20% to doing their hair, make-up or tidying up their appearance while driving.

Of the 1,000 drivers, 2% admitted to narrowly avoiding a crash, or having to brake or swerve to avoid a hazard because they were distracted by food or drink.

Brake says research suggests eating a meal at the wheel is as dangerous as talking on a phone. It wants the government to increase fines for distraction and careless driving offences to stop risky multi-tasking drivers.

And it seems there would be support for a complete ban on smoking while driving. We are part way there with the Children and Families Bill, recently voted on by MPs, that empowers the government to ban smoking in cars carrying children.

Now a survey of driver attitudes, commissioned by Motorpoint, says smoking in cars should be stubbed out completely with 71% of 7,500 people polled wanting the government to go much further than the current plans that will make it a criminal offence to smoke in cars where children are present.

So there's a little food for thought. As the saying goes... there's no smoke without fire.

Twitter @andyrussellauto

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