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Eating and Smoking When Driving

By: Sally Aquire - Updated: 30 Aug 2010 | comments*Discuss
Eating And Smoking When Driving

Do you think nothing of eating and smoking behind the wheel? We've all done it , but now some countries are starting to lay down the law on lighting up on the road, as even a momentary distraction can cause serious accidents.

Driving Distractions

Driving distractions are a major contributor to fatal road accidents, many of which are caused by motorists having a sneaky cigarette or bite to eat whilst driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a quarter of car crashes in the United States are caused by drivers losing concentration. Many of these incidents involved young drivers under the age of twenty.

Driving distractions can result in a delay in processing information. The increased cognitive load results in a greater length of time staring straight ahead, rather than checking mirrors. They also reduce the ability to fully concentrate on the task in hand.

Smoking Whilst Driving

From 1st of July 2007 it will be illegal to smoke in any public spaces and workplaces in England. The introduction of the new law also means that it will be illegal to smoke in vehicles that are used to transport members of the public or if they are used by more than one person for the purposes of work (paid or unpaid) whether they are travelling in the vehicle at the same time or not.

The ban also means that it will be illegal for both drivers and passengers to light up in all taxis and private hire vehicles. This means that drivers will not be able to smoke in their cab, even if they have no passengers.

All vehicles that are required to be smokefree must display a no smoking sign which must show the international symbol for "No Smoking" and must be 70 mm across or more.

Private vehicles, or those that are used mainly for private purposes will not be required to be smokefree.

Lighting up behind the wheel in Scotland can already cost you £60 as in 2006 smoking whilst driving was banned as part of the Scottish Highway Code. In-car smoking is banned in Brazil and in Germany, they are attempting to impose a smoking ban whilst driving.

A popular German newspaper reported on accident research which showed that a vehicle travelling 50 kilometres (31 miles) per hour will still travel 14 metres (16 yards) per second whilst the driver scrabbles around for a fallen cigarette. Clearly there is huge potential for an accident whilst the driver has taken their eye off the road or dipped in concentration.

Recent Spanish research indicates that smokers are twice as likely to be involved in a serious road accident as non-smokers.

Eating and Drinking Whilst Driving

Studies have found that eating and drinking affects the focus of 1.7% of motorists involved in accidents, whereas mobile phones - usually blamed for distracting drivers- only affects 1.5%. It has also been suggested that frequently operating an in-car CD player is more distracting than either activity.

Fizzy drinks can be a big disruption. If they spill, they are likely to cause a loss of focus as you attempt to stop further spillage and assess the damage.

Eating greasy foods at the wheel is a nightmare. It is almost impossible to grip the steering wheel with sticky hands, meaning you will probably spend much of the time wiping your hands rather than concentrating on the road ahead.

Coffee is perhaps the worst offender. An unexpected bump in the road is liable to be a recipe for disaster for any drink without a lid. The prospect of arriving with unsightly stains means many drivers spend too much time trying to recover the situation. To make matters worse, the heat of the beverage contributes to the potentially dangerous driving environment.

Tips For Safer Driving

  • To avoid smoking, remove the ashtray, cigarette lighter and cigarettes from the car so you aren't tempted to light up on the road
  • Leave the house earlier to schedule time out to grab a bite to eat off the road
  • Travel with someone else and take it in turns to drive and eat
Combining eating or smoking with driving is an accident waiting to happen. Make things easier for yourself and other drivers by sticking to these simple rules.

Driving for Work?

If your job involves driving, you'll need to be aware of the safety implications, your employer's obligations and relevant legislation. The Driving At Work article on Safeworkers.co.uk gives detailed information on this subject.

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