Written by AMT Team
16 January, 2020
When smoking was banned in public places in 2007, e-cigarettes were only just starting to appear in the UK. Many thought they were a gimmick, whilst others doubted they’d be much healthier than cigarettes.
By 2011, around 7 million people were using them worldwide. That number has now mushroomed to 41 million and, by 2021, 55 million people are expected to be vaping. In the UK alone, in 2019, 12.5% more people started using e-cigs than did the previous year. This equates to 3.6 million people or 7.1% of the country’s entire population.
Almost all people who vape use it as a method to cut down on or quit cigarettes – only 0.8% take it up from nothing. As a result, the ever-increasing pressure on smokers to stub out their habit means vaping will only become increasingly popular.
Seeing drivers puff away on e-cigs at the wheel is a common sight – and a legal one. That is, so long as the clouds of vapour don’t obscure the driver’s vision. The vapour that the devices produce is much more visible and dense than cigarette smoke and, as a result, can momentarily block the view of the road. There’s also a risk of being distracted by the device itself, similar to with other devices like mobile phones.
Regardless of who in the car is vaping, if a police officer believes the driver can’t fully see the road or is likely to be distracted, they could be given a fine of up to £1,000 – or £2,500 for a HGV driver. It wouldn’t stop there, either, because distracted driving can even earn drivers up to nine penalty points on their licences. Actually using a vape in a car, though, is legal.
Because of this ambiguity, we spoke to some experts about whether car insurance providers are likely to take vaping into account when considering claims.
“Police have warned that there is the potential for drivers to be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention if they are distracted by the clouds vapour that is emitted from vaping devices. Even though we haven’t yet heard of any payouts being explicitly refused for claims where vaping could have been a factor in a crash, there could be exclusions written into some insurance policies in the future – particularly as the number of people who vape increases.
“Vaping is gradually becoming more socially acceptable, and so is more likely to become a factor in insurance claims. There are some devices available now that produce much less vapour, but these are still relatively uncommon and, for many vapers, the illusion of smoke is part of what substitutes for cigarettes. The risk of being distracted by the device itself also still remains.
“Even though our panel of insurers doesn’t currently ask whether drivers vape when they’re looking for a quote, it may well be something that gets asked in the near future. The more prevalent vaping becomes, and the more potential it has to become a factor in claims, then the more likely this is.”
We also asked RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) about how distracting vapes can be, and the extent of the dangers it poses.
“Distracted driving is a leading cause of road accidents in the UK. Any secondary activity which takes eyes off the road is potentially dangerous. As well as being a physical distraction, vaping while behind the wheel can create visibility problems if clouds of vapour are produced.
“Although it is not currently prohibited in law, drivers choosing to vape while on the road is a growing and concerning trend. If using an electronic cigarette whilst driving causes a motorist to become involved in a collision, then the activity could be considered careless driving – which is an offence.”
Given the thoughts of those in the insurance industry and those campaigning for improved safety, it’s apparent that, although vaping at the wheel isn’t illegal in itself, there are serious concerns about how significant a factor it can play in causing crashes. Particularly as more people take it up in their efforts to stop smoking.
With driver distraction already contributing towards a third of crashes on UK roads, AMT is urging drivers to simply avoid vaping at the wheel. Partly to benefit the safety of all Britain’s 33 million motorists, and partly to avoid having an insurance policy voided when it’s needed most.
If the insurance industry does indeed start to include exclusions in policies that allow for policies not to apply when the driver or their passengers have been vaping, it could be a nasty surprise for someone faced with a huge bill despite not technically falling foul of the law.