Smoking and driving — more dangerous than cellphones?

The driver of a heavy SUV sped through a stop light while trying to light a cigarette. You can imagine the scene: a cigarette in his mouth, an elbow on the steering wheel, and the other hand fumbling with a butane lighter. The driver narrowly missed several cars waiting to make a left-hand turn.

A lot of attention is focused on distracted driving and cellphone use lately, and rightly so. But many can become complacent about the dangers that smoking and driving can present.

An Italian study suggests that smoking and driving is even more dangerous than cellphone use while driving. In this study, at 31 mph, it took the average cellphone user 10.6 seconds to react to stimuli, while smokers took 12 seconds. The former group took 492 feet to come to a stop, while the latter took 523 feet. Those results in distance and danger increase exponentially with speed. The study suggests that smoking while driving is a hazard for both drivers and the public with whom they share the road.

Another study suggests that the smoke and particulate matter inside the vehicle, combined with the distraction of handling smoking materials and the behavioral risk habits of smokers themselves, leads to increased danger while driving. Smokers frequently squint to see through smoke in their vehicles or try to find a lit cigarette that fell from their lips before it burns a hole in the seat or carpet. 

Many states do not allow smoking in the workplace. In theory, employees who use their vehicles or company-assigned vehicles should not smoke while on company business. However, enforcement is often lax and varies from business to business. Smoking in a vehicle decreases its value, saturating upholstery and carpet with odors and burns. It also leaves a film on glass and hard surfaces.

The link between smoking and driving is so strong for many drivers that some counselors recommend quitting lighting up in the car before quitting altogether. It is not an easy behavior to correct, but it is one that affects the bottom line of every business owner.

Employers should enforce no-smoking-while-driving rules and educate their employees about the other dangers smoking drivers can create for their business.