Smoking a cigarette is not currently illegal while driving in the UK, provided that there are no children under 18 in the vehicle at the time. However, if it is deemed to be a distraction to the driver the police may fine drivers at their own discretion. This rule is due to be applied to vaping as well as cigarettes.
I want to take a look at how the proposed new laws may in effect create a ban on vaping whilst driving and what vapers need to know before they get behind the wheel with their vape.
Three million Brits are now regularly using e-cigarettes. There has been a rapid increase in the numbers of e-cigarette users across the world, growing from 7 million vapers in 2011 to 35 million in 2016. Euromonitor, a market research group, has estimated that adults who use e-cigarettes will increase to a staggering 55 million globally by the year 2021.
The cloud of vapour produced by vaping tends to be much larger than the smoke produced by traditional cigarettes. Sergeant Carl Knapp of the Sussex Road Policing Unit has said that clouds produced by e-cigarettes are a distraction - one which can lead to potentially fatal consequences.
‘Cloud-chasing’ is certainly very fashionable amongst vapers. By rebuilding vape tanks, setting specific airflow settings, adjusting power settings or using the right type of battery, vapers can increase the size of the cloud that they expel when using their e-cigarette.
Any risk of putting yourself and others in danger should deter anyone from vaping whilst driving. However, eating and drinking, adjusting the radio, smoking tobacco and that modern scourge of driver distractions, mobile phones, are already included in this list.
Some headlines may make you believe that vaping is the dangerous aspect here but the law applies to anything that can cause the driver to lose focus. It is in the way e-cigarettes are being classified that may well be the problem here though.
E-Cigarettes vs Mobile Phones
The proposed ban has been proposed as a result of the potential for e-cigarette vapour clouds to obscure the vision of the driver. Vaping while driving a vehicle is not an illegal act in itself. However, the authorities have confirmed that e-cigarettes will be treated in the same way as any other electronic device used while driving, which could put it in the same category as mobile phones - a far more distracting device.
Handheld electronic devices such as phones, tablets and sat-navs are commonly cited as one of the leading reasons for car crashes in the UK. The figures show that ‘text driving’ is twice as likely to cause a road accident than drink driving. On 1st March 2017, a law was introduced to ban texting while driving, resulting in a £200 fine and up to six points on the offender’s driving license.
In the same vein, e-cigarettes will be treated as though they are a distracting handheld device.
In addition and as mentioned earlier, the vapour cloud, or ‘smoke’, produced by vaping can be large and dense. If this were to obscure the vision of the driver, they could end up causing a fatal accident. A driver’s view restricted by a cloud of vapour would have the same effect as sun glare, which also impairs vision and therefore judgement whilst driving.
Whilst this isn’t at all unreasonable, there is some concern amongst the vaping community that vapers will be targeted by police even if their view isn’t disrupted by clouds of vapour, leading to a similar zero tolerance approach as that applied to drivers caught on their mobile phones whilst behind the wheel.
If the driver is seen by a police officer as being distracted by a vape whilst driving, they will potentially receive between three and nine points on their driving license. This will be in addition to a monetary fine of up to £2500, or even disqualification from driving altogether.
Other Vaping Restrictions
Where else in the UK are vapers restricted by law? Currently, there are no specific spaces in which vaping is legally banned in the UK. There have been proposals, for example, in Wales, a bill was almost passed to ban vaping in public places with children present but it did not garner enough support from the MPs. There are currently moves by MPs to try and lift restrictions on vaping in public spaces including a lifting of the ban on vaping in the NHS.
While legal restrictions may not apply to the use of e-cigarettes, there are still locations in which you will be asked to stop using your vape. You cannot be punished for vaping, but you can be asked to stop or leave the premises. This is at the discretion of the owners of the establishment. Many pubs and restaurants treat vaping in the same fashion as they treat smoking cigarettes - you cannot smoke inside, but there is a designated outside area for both.
Restrictions similarly apply in public buildings, academic institutions and public transport, including the vast majority of airlines. It is always recommended that you check with staff prior to vaping in any interior location.