Smoking was banned in cars in 2015. At the time we pointed out that it was ill considered and left the police unclear about how to implement it.
The law stated a car, “must now be smoke-free if it is enclosed, there is more than one person in it and one of them is under-18. The law will be broken if the driver does not stop smoking or fails to prevent a passenger from smoking.”
The legislation didn’t apply to vaping, although it was difficult to see how an officer was going to be able to tell the difference between smoking and vaping in a moving vehicle.
Smokers faced being £50 poorer per offence – although officers have the discretion to issue a warning or refer the matter to court. Vapers would be breaking the law if a passenger is smoking. By 2016, the legislation had been declared “an abject failure”.
A police spokesperson said the law was being badly implemented because it had been badly thought out. The legislation didn’t apply to all vehicles; soft-top convertibles and coupes with the roof down and stowed are classed as open vehicles. In such a case the law will not apply and no law broken. Plus, motorhomes, campervans and caravans also fall under the new law while they are on the road. They become exempt once stopped and being used as accommodation.
During the first seven months, only three police forces from the forty-two in England and Wales have carried out any stops relating to smoking in cars. None of those stops resulted in anything other than a verbal warning – no drivers have been issued with the statutory £50 fine.
Nigel Rabbits, branch spokesperson for the Devon and Cornwall Police Federation, said the new law left officers “confused as to where they stand. It is poor legislation that hasn't been thought through and it's very difficult to enforce because you are talking about looking at a vehicle and trying to figure out what's going on inside. If you're looking for someone under the age of 18 that's difficult without stopping the vehicle and once the vehicle has been stopped getting the evidence for prosecution is extremely difficult.”
Building on this situation, the police warned drivers about vaping last year. Surrey Police Sergeant John Davis confirmed that vaping while driving is not against the law, but stated: "Any person who is distracted in any way could be guilty of an offence - whether that be smoking, vaping or eating. With regards a scenario where someone could potentially be either distracted or have reduced visibility then there is potential for a crash."
The Road Policing Unit’s Sergeant Carl Knapp said: "The smoke caused by vapes are a distraction and the consequences of them can be dire, all it takes is a moment to become distracted and potentially cause a crash and even worse, a fatality."
"There are no laws prohibiting vaping, however, you need to be in full and proper control of your vehicle at all times. If you are going to vape I advise that you open your windows and blow the vapour directly out, just ensure that you are in full control of your vehicle before doing so."
Brake, a UK road safety charity that campaigns to prevent road deaths and injuries, commented: "Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do on a daily basis; it is a complex task, that requires your full attention to do so safely. Vaping while driving increases your risk of crashing, causing visual disruption and physical and mental distraction.”
A spokesperson for RoSPA chipped in: “Vaping while driving could easily impair a driver's ability to drive safely, which could increase the chances of crashing.”
The Independent has decided to remind people that if a driver is deemed to be distracted while vaping by the police they face the possibility of 3 to 9 points and a fine of up to £2,500 or disqualification: “While vaping while on the road is not technically illegal, motorists who are distracted by the smoke from e-cigarettes may be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention.”
Since 2009, the number of reported U.K. car accidents caused by the driver vaping: 0.