Last week, I reported seeing a woman driving with a dog in her lap. Even more astounding, that same woman had her left hand hanging out the window holding a cigarette! Talk about distracted.
In BC, smoking is only prohibited in a car if there is a passenger under the age of 16 in the vehicle. This is a health-related–not a safety–law. But should a safety perspective also be taken regarding smoking while driving? Should distracted driving include a ban on smoking as well as other risky driver behaviors behind the wheel?
Smokers are 1.5 times more likely to get in a motor vehicle accident
Various studies in Australia, Italy, Canada and the United States all consistently report evidence that smokers are at least 1.5 times more likely than non-smokers to have a motor vehicle crash. Some researchers even report that smoking may be a greater distraction than use of electronic devices and is therefore a considerable road risk.
The fact is, any activity that distracts a driver poses an immediate safety threat to both the driver as well as others who are sharing the roadways. According to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), for example, drivers who reach for a moving object of any kind are nine times more likely to get in a car accident. When you consider the activities of reaching for a cigarette pack, extracting and lighting a cigarette, smoking it and then attempting to discard the butt without starting a fire, smoking while driving clearly emerges as a substantial and risky distraction.
What is the limit to the definition of ‘driving distractions’?
Late in in 2013, the New Jersey State Assembly’s transportation committee voted to approve a bill that will prohibit any activity unrelated to driving–such as smoking, eating, and personal grooming – that interferes with the safe operation of a vehicle. While in concept the bill–which has yet to be approved by State Senate–is a step in the right direction, it raises the question of how broadly to extend the definition of distracted driving behaviors.
Does it really make sense to ban having a sip of water or adjusting the radio while driving? Likely not, but what we do need to do is focus on the most risky driving behaviors. Having a sip of water while your vehicle is at a full stop, for example, is not going to cause an accident. But trying to handle a hot or cold drink while navigating on a winding highway while travelling at 120 kph is definitely risky. As a case in point, recently a young BC driver and her passengers were seriously injured when the driver dropped her iced drink while driving and lost control of her car, over-corrected, crossed the highway and rolled down an embankment.
Mark Lyons, personal injury lawyer at Klein Lawyers, has represented a significant number of ICBC claimants involved in accidents caused by distracted drivers. Mark advises that, “It really comes down to driver training and common sense. Smoking, eating, and personal grooming while driving are behaviors looking for an accident. Just because something isn’t against the law doesn’t mean it’s safe. Use common sense, and for your own sake as well as that of others, pay attention while you’re driving.”
Sources: Tobacco in Australia
Brison R. Risk of automobile accidents in cigarette smokers. Canadian Journal of Public Health 1990;81(2):102-6. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2331646