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Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance comparison expert
Posted
31 MAY 2023
4 min read
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Dangers of smoking and vaping while driving

The commonality of smoking in the UK has declined steadily, but in contrast, the trend of vaping is gaining momentum; the number of adults in Great Britain who vape rose to 8.3% in 2022, which is a significant increase from a mere 1.7% a decade ago.

In light of the growing number of vapers in the UK – and the significant number of smokers – we carried out some research to find out how many drivers indulge this habit while behind the wheel, and whether they are aware of the potential risks as outlined in the Highway Code.

How many drivers smoke or vape behind the wheel?

Over a quarter (27%) of drivers we surveyed admitted to smoking or vaping while driving, 9% of whom said they do so as long as there are no minors in the vehicle.

Some cities are more guilty of doing so than others - Birmingham residents are most likely to smoke or vape behind the wheel with over a third (34%) admitting to doing so. This is followed by drivers in Manchester (33%) and Cardiff (30%).

Rank City % of drivers who smoke or vape in the car while driving
1 Birmingham 34%
2 Manchester 33%
3 Cardiff 30%
4 Edinburgh 28%
5 Glasgow 27%

We also found that smoking or vaping while driving decreases with age, with drivers aged 16 to 24 being the most likely to smoke or vape in the car, with just under half (47%) admitting to doing so, followed by 37% of 25 to 34-year-olds. Meanwhile, drivers aged 55 and over are the least likely to smoke or vape while driving (12%).

This follows the pattern of younger generations being the most frequent vapers overall; the peak age group for e-cigarette use in 2022 was 18- to 24-year-olds (11%), while people aged 55 and over had the lowest rate at only 4.9%.

Rank Age % of drivers who smoke or vape in a car while driving
1 16-24 47%
2 25-34 37%
3 35-44 24%
4 45-54 21%
5 55+ 12%

What are the rules associated with smoking and vaping while driving?

Nearly two in five drivers (39%) believe that they can’t be fined for anything relating to smoking in the car, and another half (50%) don’t think there are consequences to vaping.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case – and drivers could face serious consequences if they remain unaware of the rules.

Highway Code Rule 148

Highway Code Rule 148 stipulates that drivers must limit distractions while behind the wheel in order to drive safely, listing smoking as an example of what to avoid.

Smoking or vaping in the car could be considered as careless or inconsiderate driving if it distracts the driver or leads to an accident, which can result in an unlimited fine, discretionary disqualification, and 3 to 9 penalty points on your licence.

Smoking in a vehicle with a minor

Since 2015, it has been illegal to smoke in a car – or other type of vehicle – with anyone under 18 present. This applies to every driver in England and Wales, and breaking the law can result in a £50 fine for both the smoker and the driver.

For the 24% of drivers we spoke to who said that they allow passengers to smoke in their car, it’s vital for them to make sure that they only let this happen when minors are not present – or they could face serious consequences.

There is currently no law against vaping in a vehicle with a minor present.

The importance of driving safely

A concerning 8.4% - which equates to more than 3.5 million drivers – admit to still smoking while driving despite being fully aware that they could be fined, while 6.8% - equivalent to almost 2.8 million drivers - continue to vape despite knowing the potential consequences. Drivers that choose to smoke or vape while driving not only risk potential legal consequences for themselves, but also may pose a threat to road safety through potentially careless driving.

Smoking and vaping while driving could be distracting, and smoke and vapor inside the car could impair vision. Driving with one hand on the wheel while smoking or vaping could also affect your control of the vehicle.

There are ways for drivers who smoke or vape to stay safe and eliminate putting yourself and other road users in dander, such as pulling over to the side of the road where possible if they need to smoke, or scheduling stops during long journeys. This means they can then focus their attention fully on the road, minimising risks and avoiding fines.

When it comes to car insurance, smoking inside your car has no direct impact. However, if you smoke regularly, the smell can stick to the upholstery and be tough to get rid of. This can decrease the value of your car, providing another reason to avoid lighting up while inside your vehicle.

Methodology & sources

All data is taken from a survey of 2,019 UK Drivers carried out in May 2023.

Information about fines and penalties is taken from the Highway Code and the gov.uk website.

Julie Daniels - motor insurance comparison expert

Julie is passionate about delivering a great customer experience and rewarding people for saving on their insurance through our loyalty and rewards programme. She’s spoken to the media, including outlets like Sky News and Capital FM, about car and home insurance, as well as our rewards scheme.

Learn more about Julie