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Smoking and driving

The law and smoking in vehicles

In July 2009 England introduced smoke-free laws applying to vehicles. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already had smoke-free vehicle legislation in place.

Smoke-free vehicle laws affect drivers, as do references to smoking and driving in the Highway Code, which also carries some legal weight.

Smoke-free laws

Company vehicles are required to be smoke free at all times if they are used:

  • to transport members of the public, or
  • in the course of paid or voluntary work by more than one person – regardless of whether they are in the vehicle at the same time

In Scotland it is an offence to smoke in any vehicle used for work, unless that vehicle is a car. This rule also applies to vehicles from other parts of the UK.

Smoke-free vehicles must display a no-smoking sign in each compartment of the vehicle in which people can be carried. This must show the international no-smoking symbol no smaller than 70mm in diameter.

When carrying persons, smoke-free vehicles with a roof that can be stowed or removed will not be required to be smoke free when the roof is completely removed or stowed.

Vehicles that are used primarily for private purposes are not required to be smoke free.

Check your employer's smoking in vehicles policy as well – they may impose policies on smoking in vehicles that go further than the legislation.


Smoking in private vehicles carrying children

Since 1 October 2015 it has been illegal to smoke in any private vehicle with anyone under 18 present.

Smoke-free legislation set out in the Health Act 2006, has been extended so that it is now an offence to:

  • smoke in a private vehicle with someone under age 18 present; and
  • fail to prevent smoking in a private vehicle with someone under age 18 present

The regulations apply to enclosed private vehicles and do not apply to anyone driving alone.

The law doesn't apply to a convertible car with the roof completely down but does apply to all vehicles 'wholly or partly enclosed by a roof' and still applies if you have windows or a sunroof open, if you have the air conditioning on if you sit in the open doorway of the vehicle.

The rules don't apply to e-cigarettes

A fixed penalty notice of £50 applies for the offence of failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle in England and Wales.

An AA-Populus Motoring panel survey in August 2014 (18,336 respondents) showed that 70% of AA Members support these proposals.

(1 October 2015)


The Highway Code

Smoking is included in the Highway Code (Rule 148) as one of a number of distractions to be avoided when driving or riding.

Rule 148: Safe driving and riding needs concentration

Avoid distractions when driving or riding such as:

  • loud music (this may mask other sounds)
  • trying to read maps
  • inserting a cassette or CD or tuning a radio
  • arguing with your passengers or other road users
  • eating and drinking
  • smoking

You must not smoke in public transport vehicles or in vehicles used for work purposes in certain prescribed circumstances. Separate regulations apply to England, Wales and Scotland.


AA comment

The Highway Code doesn't make it a specific offence to smoke while driving, any more than it is a specific offence to change a cassette, read a map or eat.

However, if any of these behaviours are coupled with bad driving, or lead to an accident, a charge of careless driving, or not being in a position to control the vehicle becomes a distinct possibility.

These behaviours can also be used to show dangerous driving, an offence which could lead to imprisonment, particularly if the dangerous driving causes a death.

A good comparison would be with using mobile phones. Being seen to use a hand-held phone is now a specific offence (the Highway Code says 'must not').

Using a hands-free phone is not a specific offence, but provides grounds for a careless or dangerous driving prosecution in the event of erratic driving or an accident.

(Page updated 12 October 2015)