News & opinion Smoking and Driving: Does It Pose a Danger?

Smoking and Driving: Does It Pose a Danger?

attorney for smoking while driving accident

You have probably heard a great deal about many of the activities you should not engage in while driving. Most Americans know the dangers, for example, of texting and driving. You might even know the dangers of eating and drinking behind the wheel.

Smoking, however, may fall into a more ambiguous category. Surely someone can light up and relax behind the wheel, right?

In truth, however, smoking behind the wheel may prove more problematic than you think. People who frequently smoke and drive may want to consider the potential repercussions, including whether they could end up inadvertently causing an accident.

Smoking Causes Immense Distraction

People who smoke routinely may not think about just how much distraction it may involve. They may think about the time with the cigarette actually to their lips, not about all the steps necessary to get there and the associated challenges.

Unfortunately, smoking behind the wheel can prove dangerous in three different ways.

Manual Distraction

First, the manual distraction: taking hands off the wheel. To smoke while driving, most drivers will take one hand off the wheel and use it to hold the cigarette. In relatively normal traffic, or when they do not have to contend with substantial twists and turns in the road, that may not prove particularly difficult to manage.

In tighter traffic or an emergency, however, having one hand off the wheel can decrease reaction time and make it much more difficult for them to avoid an accident.

Furthermore, consider the steps necessary to light a cigarette and get it to the lips for the first time. Frequently, lighting the cigarette means taking both hands off the wheel to work the lighter and hold the cigarette. Most of the time, that takes only seconds. To light the cigarette, however, they may find themselves with their hands off the wheel, substantially raising the risk of a collision.

Visual Distraction

“Oh, but I don’t have to look at my cigarette to smoke it!” Most smokers consider smoking automatic. They may have done it for so long that they no longer have to look at the cigarette.

They might, however, have to look at it to light it.

They might check the burned ash as it grows.

They might look down to see how much is have left as it burns.

They might find themselves fumbling with the pack as they try to shake out a single cigarette.

Smoking involves many visual distractions, many of which smokers might not even think about. Each time they take their eyes off the road, however, they miss what happens around them.

During those moments of distraction, the car in front of them could stop abruptly, or someone could pull out in front of them. In a residential neighborhood, a child might run out into traffic or a dog might chase their vehicle. Those moments of visual distraction could end up costing them more than they think.

Cognitive Distraction

Smoking behind the wheel can pose a potent cognitive distraction. When they smoke and drive, they have part of their attention on the cigarette. Sometimes, that means actively thinking about the cigarette: the actions of lighting it, bringing it to their lips, and inhaling.

They may have a ritual that leads them to hold their breath and focus on the smoke for several seconds. That distraction can take their attention off the road for several critical seconds. In some cases, they may allow their minds to wander, rather than focusing on the road. As a result, they may have a hard time keeping their mind and attention where it belongs: on the other vehicles around them.

Cognitive distraction can offer one of the most dangerous distractions on the road, in part because people often do not realize they have suffered from cognitive distraction until an accident occurs. They may not realize that they have allowed their mind to wander. They might think that they have enough of their focus on the road.

However it occurs, cognitive distraction offers a potent danger.

Nicotine and Driving: The Impact

Smoking and driving the actual act of smoking while behind the wheel can pose a significant challenge on the road. However, some people may wonder if nicotine consumption poses a danger behind the wheel, like other drug use.

What happens when people use nicotine behind the wheel?

One notable study found that nicotine use could enhance driving performance. Smokers who consumed nicotine found that their brake time improved after just a single cigarette, while tracking accuracy increased after two middle-strength cigarettes.

For smokers, that means that using nicotine before getting behind the wheel could offer some cognitive advantages. However, smokers should not assume that smoking behind the wheel will not pose a danger, since the act of lighting a cigarette, or consuming nicotine by other means, including vaping, could result in substantial distraction that could lead to a serious accident. And the other health problems caused by smoking are too numerous to recount here.

Increased Dangers, Enhanced Distraction

They may assume that they have the art of smoking while driving down. They have learned how to avoid taking their eyes off the road, or at least to minimize the time their eyes spend off the road, and they may not need to take more than one hand off the wheel at a time. Perhaps they have a friend in the passenger seat lighting the cigarette for them, or maybe they light up at a red light or stop sign, or before they start driving, instead of trying to take care of that task while behind the wheel.

Minimizing distraction can make it safer to smoke and drive, but it does not necessarily make it safe. They may have grown used to the act of smoking, so they probably minimize the dangers. However, several common challenges could increase their risks.

#1. They need to tap off the ash.

Modern cars often do not come with ashtrays. Smokers might not have considered that need when they bought their cars.

Where do they tap the ash?

Even if their car does have an ashtray, can they reach it easily? Do they know its location well enough that they do not even have to glance at it?

What if they miss?

Some smokers choose to alleviate that problem by tapping ash out the window. However, that can carry consequences.

#2. Ash blows back on them.

They tapped their ash out the window, but they traveled at a high enough rate of speed that it came back into the car. Perhaps a passing car or a gust of wind blew it their way. Maybe they just did not tap it far enough down to avoid a problem.

How do they react when ash blows back on them?

If they feel hot ash blowing back their way, they may jerk, including jerking their hands in a way that causes the car to swerve. They may have a hard time keeping the vehicle under control, especially if they also need to brush that ash away. Sometimes, blowing ash could increase their anxiety and create a perfect storm that leads to an immediate accident.

#3. Ash lands in their lap.

They forgot to tap their cigarette. They had their focus on the road, where it should be, but failed to notice that the ash on their cigarette had grown substantially. It falls on their clothes.

Now what?

Their next steps could lead to a severe accident, often one including substantial injuries. As the ash lands in their lap, they may take their hands off the wheel to brush at it. They already have a cigarette in one hand. How do they brush the ash away? Sometimes, they may take both hands off the wheel, even if for only seconds, while they try to brush the ash away. With their hands off the wheel, they could end up reacting very slowly.

Ash in their lap or on their body could also cause them to put more focus on it than on the road itself, especially if it burns them in the process. Most of the time, they probably avoid coming into contact with that ash. In an emergency, however, they could end up with ash in places they did not intend.

#4. They drop their cigarette.

Dropping their cigarette outdoors, on concrete, poses relatively little problem. Dropping their cigarette in their vehicle, on the other hand, could cause substantial issues. Depending on what their cigarette lands on, it could cause a lot of damage: melting, for example. In a worst-case scenario, something could catch on fire.

If they drop their cigarette, they could find themselves paying more attention to that immediate emergency than they do to other threats around them. They may try to stamp it out so that it does not catch their floorboards on fire. If they drop it on something highly flammable, they could find themselves trying to put out a fire.

Unfortunately, many people, in their immediate panic, forget to pull off the road to take care of that problem or they could find themselves in a spot where they do not have time or room to get off the road. As a result, they may quickly cause a collision. Even if they remember to brake, they could find themselves sitting in the middle of the road, where someone else could crash into them.

Does Smoking Count as Distracted Driving?

Generally speaking, distracted driving includes any behavior that takes their eyes, hands, or attention off of the road. In some cases, smoking can pose all three types of distractions. While smoking alone may not pose a substantial cognitive distraction, the other activities that go along with smoking could raise the risk they may face.

Most of the time, the police will not pull someone over for smoking and driving. However, if they engage in dangerous behavior because they smoke and drive swerving over the road as they try to brush off the ash, for example they may find themselves pulled over by a police officer, who may issue a ticket for dangerous behavior on the road.

Furthermore, if they cause an accident because of dangerous actions related to smoking and driving, they may bear liability for the accident. For example, if they reach down to grab a cigarette they have dropped or take their foot off the brake to stomp it out, resulting in a collision, they would bear liability for that accident, which could lead to significant financial and legal consequences.

Frequent accidents because of smoking and driving could even lead to the loss of their license. They may also find that their insurance rates increase: in some cases, even a single accident can cause those insurance rates to shoot up.

If they want to avoid the increased risk of smoking and driving, they should avoid smoking behind the wheel. While long road trips or stressful commutes might make it more difficult, keep in mind that an accident could increase their stress levels even more, not to mention causing significant consequences that could linger long after the initial accident.

A Lawyer Can Help Following a Smoking and Driving Accident

If you suffer injuries in an accident because another driver took eyes, hands, or attention away from the task of driving, you may deserve compensation for any injuries you sustained. A lawyer can help you break down the financial losses you may have suffered due to the accident and give you a better idea of what compensation you might deserve.

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