Smoking in cars carrying children

Find out more about the introduction of laws relating to smoking in cars carrying children, which will be illegal from October 2015.

Cars are small tin boxes where concentrations of tobacco smoke can reach dangerous levels very quickly
Deborah Arnott, Action on Smoking and Health

Smoking is to be banned in cars carrying children from October 2015, and offenders will be punished with a £50 fine or five points on their licence.

Legislation to make smoking in the family car illegal was passed in December 2014 and comes into effect from October 2015, under amendments to legislation by the Department of Health (DoH).

Failing to prevent someone smoking in a car carrying children will also be a punishable offence.

In February 2014, parliament voted in favour of legislation to make private vehicles carrying children smoke-free via changes to the Children and Families Act.

Car"Cars are small tin boxes where concentrations of tobacco smoke can reach dangerous levels very quickly," said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of campaign group Ash (Action on Smoking and Health).

"The time has come for it to be illegal to make children breathe in these toxic fumes."

Research suggests that, in 2012, 26% of 11-to-15-year-olds were exposed to second-hand smoke in their family's car at some point, while 30% had suffered similarly in someone else's car.[1]

In its factsheet on smoking in cars, Ash notes that a YouGov poll in 2014 suggested that 77% of adults in the UK agreed that smoking should be banned in cars carrying children younger than 18 years of age. What's more, 63% of the smokers surveyed agreed with such a ban.

Smoke-free cars

A private vehicle will become a smoke-free environment under the act when the vehicle is enclosed, there's more than one person in the car and a person under 18 is present.

Key points:

  • Smoking in private vehicles carrying children will be illegal from October 2015
  • Applies to enclosed vehicles, so not convertibles with the roof down
  • Punishable with a £50 fine or five points on your licence

'Enclosed' means surrounded wholly or partly by a roof and by any door or window that may be opened.

It doesn't therefore apply to a convertible car with the roof completely down, or on a motorbike - although smoking aboard the latter's a fairly restricted scenario anyway.

Anyone who smokes in a smoke-free vehicle is guilty of an offence, regardless of age.

The only exclusion to this is if a driver is under the age of 18 and smoking alone in a car - in that situation no offence will have been committed.

Under the new laws the person responsible for preventing smoking in a vehicle is the driver and this applies equally to provisional licence holders.

If someone caught smoking in a private vehicle decides not to pay the fixed penalty of £50 then the matter will be dealt with by a court, which can award a maximum fine of £800 for smoking in a smoke-free vehicle. Failure to prevent smoking could result in a fine of £10,000.

Enforcing the law

MotorhomeLocal police officers will be relied on to enforce the legislation, and they will be able to request that a vehicle stops if they think an offence is being committed.

Officers can also issue warnings, a fixed penalty or refer the offence straight to court at their own discretion.

Caravans and motorhomes

The above will apply to caravans and motorhomes when they are being used as a vehicle, but not while they are acting as a home or living accommodation.

Smoking and the Highway Code

Smoking is covered by the Highway Code as one of a number of distractions to be avoided when driving.

Rule 148: Safe driving and riding needs concentration

Smoking while driving is not a specific offence under the Highway Code, unlike the use of a mobile phone while driving

Avoid distractions when driving or riding such as:

  • Loud music (this may mask other sounds)
  • Trying to read maps
  • Inserting a cassette or CD or tuning a radio
  • Arguing with your passengers or other road users
  • Eating and drinking
  • Smoking

Smoking while driving is not a specific offence under the Highway Code, unlike the use of a mobile phone while driving.

If smoking is combined with bad driving or leads to an accident, then a driver could be accused of careless or dangerous driving.

See also:

E-cigarettes and vaping

The government has so far failed to legislate against e-cigarettes, so the ban won't apply to them - insurers are at a similar loss over the risk posed by vaping.

Smoking and car insurance

Smoking has no formal impact on car insurance. Smokers aren't asked about their habit when buying car insurance so it won't impact on your premium.

By Emily Bater