Smoking While Driving

I was curious about the comment in the earliest post from Rich, the school bus driver, who noted “I don’t smoke, but I don’t see smoking a cigarette as a highly distracting activity and I doubt that there was ever a fatality in a school bus tied to the driver smoking while driving.”

My first reply was, ‘depends what they’re smoking.’ But then, of course, the first and most obvious reason we wouldn’t want school bus drivers smoking is second-hand smoke (see here for a round-up of the work done on the health effects of smoking in cars).

But I wouldn’t so cavalierly dismiss the idea that smoking could somehow be detrimental to driving (after all, we used to cavalierly dismiss the health risks of smoking itself). As a review of the literature (PDF here) on distracted driving compiled by Monash University researchers Kristie Young, Michael Regan, Mike Hammer (no, for real!) noted:

Smoking is a common activity among drivers, however it can distract drivers as they remove their hands from the wheel to light a cigarette, hold it for an extended period of time and put it out. Several studies have found that smoking while driving increases the risk of being involved in a crash (Brison, 1990; Christie, 1990; Violanti & Marshall, 1996). Brison used a case-controlled study to investigate the risk of a motor vehicle crash in smokers and non-smokers. A self-administered questionnaire was sent out to 1,000 people known to be involved in a motor accident and 1,100 controls who had not been involved in a crash, to obtain information on each driver’s smoking status. The results revealed that smokers had an increased risk of being involved in a motor accident than non-smokers and the tendency to smoke while driving further increased this risk. Brison concluded that the association between smoking and increased crash risk could be the result of three factors: distraction caused by smoking, behavioural differences between smokers and non-smokers, and carbon-monoxide toxicity. A review of the literature by Christie (1990) also revealed that smokers have an increased crash risk compared to non-smokers and this greater risk remains when age, gender, education, alcohol consumption and driving experience are accounted for.

Again, the studies reviewed by Christie offered a range of explanations for the smoking crash risk association, ranging from smoking being a physical distraction to decrements in driving performance due to high levels of carbon-monoxide. Regardless of the exact cause of smokers’ increased risk of being involved in a crash, it is clear that smoking while driving is a hazard. Indeed, research conducted by Stutts et al. (2001) revealed that smoking was a source of distraction in 0.9% of distraction-related crashes, which equated to approximately 12,780 crashes over the 5 year period examined.

Obviously it’s hard to disentangle the physical effects versus the broader socio-demographic factors — that people who smoke are riskier drivers for other reasons — but it’s also hard not to imagine that looking for a cigarette, fumbling for a lighter, etc., don’t equate to potentially dangerous eyes-off-road-time while operating heavy machinery at high speed.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 at 2:42 pm and is filed under Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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August 2009

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