Is It Legal to Smoke Cigarettes While Driving?

Smoking while driving is a habit for some people. As soon as they get in the car, they light up. This is especially true if they aren’t allowed to smoke cigarettes on the job. But some states have outlawed smoking in cars in certain situations.

A man smokes a cigarette while driving
Smoking a cigarette while driving | Scott Wallace/Getty Images

It’s fairly common knowledge that it’s illegal to drink and drive. But what about smoking? That’s a bit of a gray area.

The short answer is no. It isn’t illegal to smoke any form of cigarette, cigar, or vape pen while driving. The longer answer is that it depends.

According to The AA, if your smoking habit causes dangerous driving, it could lead to imprisonment, especially if you cause a wreck in which someone else dies. An example of this is swerving on the road as you try to light your cigarette.

You can smoke in most states while driving as long as a minor under 18 isn’t in the car. If a child is in the car, you could be charged. According to the OLR Research Report, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Puerto Rico have made this a law. Other states may come on board in the future.

The good news is that these violations won’t cost you much. Vermont charges about $25, which is at the cheap end. Oregon and Puerto Rico cost much more, at $250. This is for a first-time offense; repeat offenses might cost more. 

A bearded man vapes while driving a car
A man vapes while driving | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Things become even trickier when you add in vaping. It’s legal in most states, except the ones mentioned above. There are some loopholes police can use, Insurance Quotes reports.

For example, if the smoke is so thick it obscures your windshield, a police officer could charge you with windshield obstruction. E-cigarettes could also fall under the category of portable electronic devices. Because some states don’t allow the use of such objects, you could be charged. 

Why is secondhand smoke so harmful?

There’s been plenty of research on the subject, and it’s now clear that secondhand smoke can cause harm to growing bodies. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, secondhand smoke comes off the end of a cigarette. 

According to the OLR Research Report, in a study published in Tobacco Control in 2011, “Researchers found that the concentration of smoke particles where smoking took place greatly exceeded international indoor air quality standards. Despite the fact that drivers opened windows and vents during the trips, ‘exposure intensities … remained considerable and taken as an average were about three times the [World Health Organization] guidance concentration. Exposure to [fine particulate matter] at the levels reported here is likely to be harmful to respiratory health’…”

With this in mind, it’s clear that drivers should take extra care with minors in the car. In most states, it’s a personal choice, but it might be a good idea to keep track of the laws in your state in case they change.

Can you throw cigarette butts out the window?

There’s another element to smoking while driving, including what you do with your cigarettes when you’re done with them. It can be tricky trying to get rid of them, especially now that new cars no longer come with built-in ashtrays. For some smokers, tossing their cigarettes out the window is the easiest solution. But it can also be the most expensive.

KOTA News reports that this tiny offense can cost you $122 in South Dakota. Though this might seem like a steep fine, governments have valid reasons for trying to discourage vehicle occupants from throwing cigarettes out the window.

One reason is to cut back on forest fires, which can destroy the environment, burn homes to the ground, and cause countless deaths. The other is that cigarette butts are unsightly litter. If you don’t have an ashtray in your car due, you can always buy one online. 

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