Is it illegal to Vape while driving?
VapingDaily rates this claim as true but misleading. The headlines and media reports have created a narrative that a vaping in the car and driving law criminalizing vapers is now in effect. That is not true.
There is no new vaping law specifically directed at vaping while driving. But at the same time, a vaper operating a vehicle is subject to the existing laws relating to careless driving.
As cloud chasing may block the observation area, this action can be potentially dangerous in combination with driving. Be aware!
There are several avenues a law enforcement official could take to issue a citation for vaping and driving. For example, every state has a law regarding texting and driving. In many states, the language of the texting and driving laws pertains to use of a “portable electronic device” while driving.
At least there has been one case of a driver charged for vaping while driving. A New York driver has been issued a ticket for vaping and driving because he was using a portable electronic device.
There are laws in every state regarding the condition and visibility of vehicle windshields. The laws include safety standards for windshields and require things like working wipers.
That makes sense. So asking is it illegal to vape and drive keep in mind the safety. While no specific law dealing with electronic cigarette vapor exists, almost all states have language in the law relating to “obstruction.”
Essentially anything that can obstruct the view may be considered a violation
Alabama law: there cannot be any non-transparent material covering the windshield, side, or rear windows.
In Wisconsin: no items can be suspended between the driver and the windshield that could obscure vision.
These two examples of laws regarding driver visibility through a windshield are broad. There is some type of law restricting non-transparent material in every state. Many states have laws regarding “items” between the driver and the windshield. Vapor could potentially be deemed as a non-transparent material. Also, vapor could be argued to be an “item” that obscures vision. The level of obstruction is a judgment call for a law enforcement officer.
Cloud chasing in a vehicle to the extent that the view is obstructed could be cited as a violation according to windshield laws in every state. There are no reports of windshield laws being used to ticket vaping and driving, but the broad discretion given to law enforcement could potentially be used to ticket vaping and driving.
Vaping and Driving With Kids In The Car
In the United States, there are several states that have enacted laws that prohibit vaping and driving in cars with children.
In California for instance, it is illegal to smoke or vape in a vehicle with a minor. (The law originally was directed at smoking.) The State law distinctly includes electronic cigarettes in the category of tobacco products. Federally, electronic cigarettes are regulated as tobacco products.
If it is prohibited by law to smoke in a vehicle with a minor inside the vehicle, do not vape.
All across the United States smoking bans most often include vaping. Likewise, laws that cover smoking in vehicles with children also include vapor products. Regardless of the law, common sense dictates that vapers should not vape with children in the car.
Careless or Reckless Driving
Careless driving is considered more serious that texting while driving and the fines can be severe. If the police notice a vaper trying to fill a vape tank, adjusting the settings on a mod, or cloud chasing to the point of an obscured view while driving, a careless driving charge might result.
Reckless driving is more severe than careless driving and carries stronger penalties. In fact, the penalties can include the loss of driving license, fines, and even jail time. Most often, reckless driving charges are filed for street racing and excessive speeding.
Assessing Careless and Reckless Driving While Using E-cigs
Both reckless driving and careless driving have discretionary criteria that could potentially be applied to vaping and driving under extreme circumstances. Speeding in a vehicle that is clouded by a vapor is likely to draw the attention of a cop on patrol. If a driver is vaping when involved in an accident, a charge of careless driving could be applied. Unless a vaper is driving at an excessive speed or doing something high risk, a reckless driving charge is unlikely but not impossible.
Vaping, or especially cloud chasing, while driving could be considered careless, so could many other activities:
- fumbling with a pack of cigarettes,
- reaching for something under the car seat.
Vaping is just one of many potential activities that could draw the attention of the police. Once again, it is the broad discretion that law enforcement has that vapers need to be aware of.
For example, if a driver is swerving while fumbling with refilling a tank while behind the wheel, a police officer can make a case for careless driving. Drivers need to be responsible for full control of their vehicle when driving. There has been no reported rash of citations for vaping and driving in the United States, but any driver who vapes on the road needs to be sure to follow the rules of the road and drive safely!
The law in New York states that drivers can not operate a vehicle while operating any of the following:
- hand-held mobile telephone,
- personal digital assistant,
- handheld devise with mobile data access,
- laptop computer,
- a broadband personal communication device,
- a two-way messaging device,
- electronic game,
- portable computing device.
Note that none of the devices described above appear to pertain to an electronic cigarette. In the New York case, the officer stated that the ticket is valid because the driver was using a portable electronic device. And the judge in the case agreed. The texting and driving laws across the country may or may not be used to prosecute vaping and driving. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of clarity to govern vaping while driving.
Texting and Driving vs. Vaping and Driving
While the New York case is an example where texting and driving laws were used to prosecute a vaper, there are many reports to the contrary. Vapers have reported being pulled over for using a mod while driving because police officers mistook a mod for a cell phone.
In those reports, the officers explained that they thought the vaping device was a cell phone and immediately let the drivers go once they recognized that it was a vaping device, not a mobile communication or computing device.
The confusion is in the language of the law
Most states expressly connect texting and driving laws to portable communication and computer devices. There are no laws targeting vaping and driving.
In other cases, law enforcement has determined that a vape is not covered by texting and driving laws. The question of whether or not texting and driving laws can be used to ticket a driver using an e-cig is an open one.
Reports of vapers charged for using a portable electronic device under texting while driving laws are rare. There is no pattern or suggestion that vapers are ticketed on a regular basis. It is safe to say that police are not actively seeking to cite and fine vapers. But the possibility remains that texting laws of distracted driving laws may be applied to vaping, and a judge may agree.
The laws leave ample room for a wide interpretation. In fact, other driving infractions that could potentially be applied to vapers.
False Reports About Vaping While Driving In The US
About a year ago, several headlines reported that 11 states were planning on banning vaping and driving. That was fake news. The story claimed that 11 stated in conjunction with the US Department of Transportation were banning the use of electronic cigarettes in a vehicle. The story said that the D.O.T. was pressuring states to ban vaping and driving.
Many vapers were understandably upset. The story was quickly debunked.There are no vaping and driving laws in the United States. Not then and not now. It is the general rules of the road and existing laws that vapers need to be aware of.
Vaping And Driving Guidelines
While there is no specific law targeting vapers, following a few common sense vaping and driving guidelines might help you avoid trouble.
- Do not cloud chase in a vehicle with closed windows. Make sure that vapor does not obscure the view of the road.
- Blow vapor out of an open window, especially when using a sub ohm mod.
- Ideally, vape only when the vehicle is stopped.
- Never vape with kids in the car.
- Pull over and get off the road if you need to adjust the power, swap batteries, refill a vape tank, or drip some juice on your coils.
- Don’t throw used coils or empty juice bottles out of the vehicle.
Be aware that following these vaping and driving guidelines is not a guarantee that you will never get a ticket. It is highly unlikely that you will get a ticket, but like the case in New York teaches there is a possibility that an aggressive officer could make a case that simply taking a vape while at the wheel qualifies as use of an electronic device. The scenario may depend on the wording of the texting and driving laws in your state.
Generally speaking, vaping responsibly and driving responsibly at the same time is probably fine. If a driver is clearly in full control of the vehicle, then it is improbable that there will be an issue. Make sure you are aware of the laws in your area and vape responsibly.
Vaping And Driving In The UK. What Can Happen To You
The specific law that applies to all drivers is careless driving, also called driving without due care and attention.
As per a recent string of screaming headlines, the public is being informed that vaping and driving in the UK could lead to a £2,500 (USD 3,500) fine and a loss of license. Is this true?
The careless driving law in the UK Highway Code:
- Also known as ‘driving without due care and attention.’
- Also known as ‘inconsiderate driving.’
- The prosecution will attempt to prove that the driver fell below the standard of a competent driver;
- Or, a prosecution will attempt to prove that the driver failed to show consideration for pedestrians and/or other drivers.
The broad standard leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Under this statute, law enforcement can charge drivers for activities ranging from eating while driving, texting, lighting a cigarette, using a navigation system, or vaping in the car. No specific activities are identified in the law.
Police can make a judgment whether or not any specific activity causes the driver’s competence to dip below reasonable standards. Any penalties imposed will depend on aggravating factors.
Penalties For Careless Driving In The UK
Much like the charge itself, the penalties for careless driving are open to discretion. The court has a vast range of discretion when determining an appropriate penalty. It is possible that vaping while driving could lead to the maximum penalties but only if aggravating factors are present.
As an example, a first offense is very unlikely to draw a maximum penalty. The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has issued guidelines for penalties for careless driving.
Examples of the aggravating factors:
- Previous convictions
- Nature of incident, for example, the severity of any related accident/injuries
- Contravening traffic signals
- Offenses while the offender is on bail
An individual guilty of vaping and driving with a record of previous offenses will be subject to more severe penalties. Careless driving leading to injuries and damage will give the judge discretion to hand out the maximum penalties.
The maximum penalties for careless driving, including vaping and driving, are:
To the contrary, there are mitigating factors that give the judge discretion to impose more lenient penalties:
- First offense
- Showing remorse
- Good character and conduct
If the court determines there are mitigating factors, the fines will be reduced. Also, there will be fewer penalty points assessed.
Penalties For Driving And Vaping
The penalties for vaping and driving are governed by the penalties for careless driving. Therefore, it cannot be stated that vaping while driving will lead to maximum fines and loss of license. Once again, there is no specific law targeting vapers. If a vaper is cloud chasing behind the wheel to the point of obscured vision, then a charge of careless driving would be warranted. Any subsequent penalty would be determined by sentencing guidelines.
Ultimately, the headlines of maximum fines and penalties for vaping and driving are misleading. Vapers need to operate a vehicle safely just as everyone else is required.
What The Police Say About Vaping And Driving
The concerns that public safety officials have are related to all types of driving distractions. The laws discussed apply to all kinds of distractions. For example, Sergeant Davis mentioned visibility about vaping. That is a legitimate concern. But vapers should not feel specifically targeted.
Surrey police also ran a Twitter promotion this past winter with the hashtag
‘#Don’t drive like an icehole.’ If a driver is operating a vehicle with frosted windows that obviously impair visibility, then it is driving without due care and attention.
If you are even thinking about going out in a car today…
The roads are covered in snow and ice, drivers aren't clearing ALL the snow and frost from their cars (windscreen, windows, roof, mirrors and lights), and people are driving too fast.
— Surrey Police (@SurreyPolice) March 3, 2018
Cloud chasing while driving can be considered an offense. A vaper who is attempting to make liquid refill while driving would be subject to the same laws and penalties as someone who is texting while driving. Police and the courts will approach vaping and driving with the same common sense safety standards that are applied to all driving distractions including smoking, texting, fiddling with a coffee cup, and the list goes on.
E-cig Regulation Overreach
Many in the vaping community are rightfully concerned about harsh regulation that does target vapers. For UK vapers who are concerned about overreach in e-cigarette regulations, UKVIA is actively advocating responsible and proportionate legislation. The UK Vaping Industry Association is working to ensure that vaping is not specifically targeted.
In the US vaping in a car is not officially prohibited, however local laws (varying from state to state) can limit vaping-allowed places.
The headlines about the law targeting vaping and driving are misleading. There may very well be new UK vaping laws forthcoming, and it is important for the vaping community to stay on top of new developments. Vapers should keep in mind basic laws and look for “no vaping” sign to avoid problems.
Vaping and Driving Guidelines
Anytime an individual is operating a motor vehicle, that privilege comes with responsibility. Vapers are subject to those responsibilities. Sergeant Carl Knapp of the UK Sussex Roads Policing Unit says,
Sergeant Knapp’s advice is sound and an excellent starting point for vaping and driving guidelines:
Each of these guidelines is common sense and ensure that individuals are focussed on their driving. Avoid being charged with careless driving and most importantly, drive safe and avoid accidents. Vape responsibly.