New smoking law comes into force amidst enforcement uncertainty
A new law introduced on 1 October 2015 makes it illegal to smoke in a vehicle with anyone under the age of 18 years present, as the government looks to “protect children and young people from the dangers of secondhand smoke”.
The law applies to all drivers in England and Wales, including those with a provisional driving licence, and both driver and smoker can be fined £50 for committing the offence.
However, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) says it will be taking an educational approach to offending motorists, rather than enforcing the fine.
The government website states that “secondhand smoke is dangerous for anyone, but children are especially vulnerable, because they breathe more rapidly and have less developed airways, lungs and immune systems. Over 80% of cigarette smoke is invisible and opening windows does not remove its harmful effect”.
The ban has been welcomed by many, including GEM, but the RAC has raised concerns about its enforcement.
The RAC points to data from the RAC Opinion Panel which suggests that 92% of motorists do not have confidence that the new ban will be effectively enforced, while only half of those polled were aware it comes into effect today.
Simon Williams, RAC spokesperson, said: “While the motoring public know this new law is coming, our data shows that a significant proportion are not aware just how soon it takes effect.
“It is worrying that nine in 10 motorists have concerns about the extent to which the new law is likely to be enforced. This is perhaps well-founded as traffic police officer numbers have fallen by nearly a quarter (23%) between 2010 and 2014 across forces in England and Wales, so it is hard to see how people flouting the law are going to be caught.”
A spokesperson for the NPCC said: “As the existing smokefree law extends to vehicles, police forces will be taking an educational, advisory and non-confrontational approach when enforcing the new legislation.
“This would see people being given warnings rather than being issued with fines, which would give time for public awareness of the offences to build.
“This is based on experience of implementing the current smokefree legislation and the Department of Health’s proposal that this approach should be adopted for a minimum of three months to help build a high level of compliance.”