Not Saussure

May 14, 2007

There ought to be a law…

Filed under: UK — notsaussure @ 7:39 am

What do these people get paid for? Apparently,

Road safety officers are calling on the government to ban smoking behind the wheel to cut the number of accidents.Simon Ettinghausen, of the Local Authority Road Safety Officers’ Association, said smoking was a dangerous distraction.

Obviously the idea’s a non-starter; the report continues with the observation that

the Department for Transport said there were no plans to introduce a ban,

but, nevertheless,

Representatives from the Local Authority Road Safety Officers’ Association are to meet government officials in coming weeks to discuss the proposal.

Well, why? What’s to discuss? All, I would have thought, that’s necessary from the Department of Transport is a polite note thanking Mr Ettinghausen for his suggestion and assuring him that the minister will give it due consideration.

Though in point of fact, I suspect the BBC is making more of it that is actually there; I’m willing to bet, just off the top of my head, that this absurd idea is but one of many measures, some of them doubtless very sensible, in a far more general report that the Road Safety Officers are to present and that, in fact, the specific matter of banning smoking while driving will occupy no more than 30 seconds of anyone’s time.

But why bring it up? As Mr Ettinghausen apparently said,

“Anything you do in the car is a distraction, whether it’s eating, drinking, using a mobile phone or smoking. But smoking in particular can be very dangerous.””If you drop a lit cigarette, your concentration on driving will immediately vanish.”

Well, quite possibly so, and I’m sure he can provide — though they’re nowhere mentioned in the BBC report — figures about the number of accidents a year he thinks are caused by people losing their concentration because they’ve dropped a cigarette, along with figures for similar mishaps caused by drivers becoming distracted because their children are having a fight in the back, or a wasp has flown in to the car — happened to my late mother once, in her younger days, on the M1 and the damn thing stung her; ban driving with open windows immediately — or any number of such contingencies. Why on earth, though, start going on about banning it rather than, as would be perfectly reasonable, just reminding drivers it’s probably a better idea if they refrain from smoking while they’re driving? Indeed, such a statement might even include a reminder about the perfectly good law we’ve already got about driving without due care and attention.

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12 Comments »

  1. I guess you are an addict to tobacco with this point of view. I think smoking in cars is pretty dangerous.

    My mother’s friend was a smoker and while turning into her driveway dropped the burning end of her cigarette between her legs where it promptly rolled down the seat until it was burning both thighs where they met.

    She immediately forgot she was driving a car, stamped on the accelerator as she tried to lift her bottom off the set, looked down to get at and remove the ash and carried on turning and drove straight through her neighbours garden wall and greenhouse.

    If she had been on a busier, bendy road at the time I shudder to think of the consequences.

    Then there’s lighting up, reaching for a lighter, throwing fag ends out the window and so on.

    Comment by fifthdecade — May 14, 2007 @ 9:51 am

  2. My point was that, while it’s doubtless very sound advice not to smoke when you’re driving (yes, I do smoke, but, no I don’t smoke while I’m driving because I agree it’s dangerous) I don’t see the point of making a proposal that’s an obvious political non-starter. The idea of motorway patrols flagging down drivers who they’ve spotted having a cigarette on the M1 is pretty absurd, at least to my mind.

    My further point is that there are all manner of activities that it’s very foolish to combine with driving — drinking a can of coke, or eating an apple, for example, both of which I’ve seen this week — but I don’t see the point of banning things for the sake of it when there’s a perfectly good law against driving without due care and attention anyway. Heavens above, I was once chewing a toffee while driving and pulled out a filling, which was pretty disconcerting, but I wouldn’t suggest banning people from eating sticky toffees when they’re driving on the off-chance a similar mishap might befall them.

    How many smoking-related accidents are there a year, do we know?

    Comment by notsaussure — May 14, 2007 @ 10:22 am

  3. I simply can’t understand this passion for more legislation. I guess it makes people feel that they’re Doing Something, but if existing law that already covers the situation isn’t working, why simply create a specific offence?

    The idea that life can be made completely safe is a powerful fantasy, but one that belongs in early childhood. Where does one draw the line? Sure, if someone smacks into my car because they’re (in my view) daft enough to smoke while driving, I expect them to be prosecuted – the same as boy-racers in Hackney on a Saturday night, or the idiot who knocks me down on a pedestrian crossing. Or the airline that drops a lump of blue ice on me, or the builder whose scaffolding falls on me. Don’t know what we do about tornadoes and earth tremors, though… the Met Office?

    I’ve had the nightmare experience of driving on a motorway with two toddlers screaming, throwing things and biffing each other, and no services for 10 more miles. Dangerous doesn’t cover it. How do you legislate for that?

    Comment by archrights — May 14, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  4. I’d also like to know how many smoking-related accidents there are a year. It takes us into an interesting zone of thought – how many deaths per year would it take before we felt having a specific law against smoking in cars was acceptable? Although I’m an ardent civil libertarian I think 3000 road deaths a year is enough to justify some restrictions on driving. Speed limits don’t stop you going anywhere, they just slow you down a little (and to be honest, not very much even). But suppose it was only 1 death a year on average caused by smoking in the car. Would that be enough to justify a ban? My feeling is no, but I can imagine that some people would be horrified at that. What about if it was 10 deaths a year?

    Comment by thesamovar — May 14, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

  5. Well, you have the “if it only saves one life” brigade.

    Meanwhile, is it 35000 people dying in hospital just for having been there. Should we ban hospitals ?

    The problem with those type of bodies (such as the local authority safety officers malarkey) is that to justify their own existence, they always have to find something new.

    Their remit des not say that it has to be sensible or even simply intelligent.

    The fact that a law already exists has not stopped the government churning out new offences by the thousands….

    Comment by Pascal — May 14, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  6. My favourite new offence is the prohibition on setting off nuclear explosions; send you down for life if you do that, they will. Wasn’t illegal until 1998; well, obviously killing vast numbers of people and destroying massive amounts of property was, but someone obviously thought we needed more specific legislation just in case.

    Can’t deny that it certainly seems to have worked.

    More seriously, there’s a report just been published that I haven’t yet read — other things on my mind, obviously — that Bystander blogged about last week, Ten Years Of Criminal Justice Under Labour.

    Money quote:

    Questions remain about whether the government is placing too much emphasis on finding criminal justice solutions to complex social and economic problems. Should the government continue to place such heavy expectations on the criminal justice system or should it be clearer about its limitations? The time is right for the government to take stock and reflect on what the criminal justice agencies can realistically achieve in reducing crime and increasing public safety and on what the appropriate level of resourcing should be.

    I think that’s what my old Latin masters used to call ‘a question expecting the answer “yes”‘ (so it should, as I recall, be introduced with nonne rather than num, in the admittedly improbable event anyone’s thinking of translating the report into Latin.

    Comment by notsaussure — May 14, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  7. It’s just like when they made it a specific offence to drive whilst using a mobile phone; driving without due care and attention and/or not being in proper control of a vehicle probably covered things perfectly well.

    Comment by rainmanlite — May 14, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  8. Not defending the government’s excessive legislation, but sometimes there can be some use in making things clearer. Holding a mobile phone while driving is driving without due care and attention, but not everyone would necessarily realise that and making it explicit has some value. It also potentially saves lives with minimal to no cost to liberty. What’s the problem with that?

    Comment by thesamovar — May 14, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

  9. I agree with The Samovar about the ban on holding a mobile phone while you’re driving. That’s something, it seems to me, that’s almost certainly going to impare your driving ability, while the argument for banning smoking while driving is, as far as I can see, that it’ll potentially impare your ability, should you drop your cigarette and set fire to yourself, which doesn’t happen particularly frequently to most people. That’s the distinction.

    Comment by notsaussure — May 14, 2007 @ 6:52 pm

  10. I was stopped, whilst at traffic lights last week, by two community Policemen. And told to put my cigarette out, as it was now against the law!!! 3 penalty points, plus £60 fine.
    The fact they were cycling two abrest [which is against the law] seemed beyoned them. I was stationary, in a traffice jam. I may just take up picking my nose whilst driving too. Just to see how many points I get for that!!

    Comment by C McGrath — August 20, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

  11. Smoking while driving. So that is the only distraction that smokers face behind the wheel? I think not! I have to constantly be aware of all the idiots on the road, especially those stupid women who drive huge range rovers/4 x 4 (who don’t even know how to use them) while taking their lazy kids to school. I also have to watch out for the morons who constantly look at their sat-navs while driving and discussing it with their friends, never mind the distraction their sat-navs cause me while I’m driving behind them! Over my dead body will some beaurocratic moron tell me what I can do in my car, unless of course they are going to start paying all my expenses for me – petrol, road tax, insurance, car loan etc etc. And as for the people still driving while on their mobile phone, I am constantly having to hoot at them! Another bloody distraction while all I want to do is get to work in one piece, and back home again!

    Comment by Overmydeadbody — October 1, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  12. Ps With all the idiots on the roads these days, I need a bloody cigarette while I’m driving!!!

    Comment by Overmydeadbody — October 1, 2007 @ 2:45 pm


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