Driver Knowledge Tests

The dangers of smoking and driving

While we’ve had a ban in NSW on smoking in vehicles when there’s a child under 16 present since 1 July 2009, it’s not against the law to smoke in a vehicle on your own. There’s a fine of $250 if you’re caught smoking with a child in the car, but no fine for smoking on your own or with adult friends. Is it a good idea to smoke while you are driving at all? In the article we take a look at the process of smoking in a car and the dangers associated with it.

If you’ve been a smoker for as little as a few weeks then you will have started to experience the cravings associated with needing another cigarette. If one of these strikes while you are driving then it can make you anxious and irritable which are not good emotions to be trying to drive with as they can cause you to make poor decisions.

The optimal solution is to stop the car and have a cigarette. Stopping the car and having a break from driving is always a good idea anyway. But what if you don’t want to stop? What happens?

First, you will reach for the cigarette. Where do you keep them? Are they easily accessible? Will you need to take your eyes off the road in order to find the packet? Once you’ve got hold of the packet you need to get a cigarette out of it. If this requires two hands, how do you continue steering your vehicle? Will you need to look at the packet? Once you’ve got the cigarette out, you can put it in your mouth, but then you need to do something with the packet of cigarettes – maybe put it on the passenger seat, for example, but can you do this without looking? Then you need to find your lighter. If you have an older car it might have a cigarette lighter built in. Did you remember to switch it on so it heats up? Or do you need to try to find your lighter? Will you need to take your eyes off the road to do this? Once you’ve got your lighter you need to light the cigarette and as the flame hits the end of the cigarette and you draw your first breath do you relax and momentarily close your eyes?

Australian video studies of drivers lighting a cigarette found that the average length of distraction is 12 seconds. At 100kph that is 320m travelled while you are not looking at the road. If you’re in an urban area driving at 50kph you will have travelled 160 metres without looking at the road. And that’s before you’ve even started drawing on your cigarette because you will need to tap the ash off the cigarette either into an ashtray or out the window, blow the smoke somewhere and eventually extinguish it (or get rid of it) in some way, all of which can distract you from driving.

If you drop it on yourself then you run the risk of setting your clothing on fire and that can be an even bigger distraction, especially as the centre of a burning cigarette can reach 600 degrees C!

Accident risks when smoking and driving – does smoking increase the risk of a car accident?

Smoking-related car accidents are usually categorised under ‘distracted driving’, but several studies have looked at the actual increased likelihood of having an accident if you are a smoker. As well as taking our focus and gaze away from the road, every time we bring the cigarette to our lips we have to take a hand off the wheel unnecessarily.

As with most studies, there is never a consensus on the actual figure, however you are between 1.5 and 3.2 times more likely to have an accident as a smoker than a non-smoker. At the top end that makes it as dangerous as driving while talking on a hand-held cellphone.

If you have been a long-term smoker then the risks of you having a heart attack or stroke are dramatically increased, and this could be while you are driving. Smokers insist that a cigarette is relaxing, but this is a common misconception. A cigarette initially causes an increase in stress and anxiety in your body and it’s your body’s return to the same normal level as non-smokers experience all the time that smokers think is relaxing.

Other negatives

Smoking in your car reduces the resale value because it’s all-but-impossible to get the smell out of the upholstery before you sell it. Obviously, smoking is also bad for your health in many, many other ways, and it also chews through your disposable cash. You might even be able to afford a better car if you stop smoking!

If you do want to give up smoking, call Quitline on 13 7848 or visit their website here.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

Tagged with:
Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle