You may have heard about reports coming out of England that driving while vaping can lead to loss of license or even jail time! Well, that report was overstated to say the least. But it did raise the question – is vaping and driving illegal in the United States? The short answer is no. But it can be complicated because vaping and driving could technically be covered under laws meant to curb distracted driving. We will get to that shortly, but first we must address the elephant in the room. What is with these stories about going to jail for vaping and driving in England?
In the spring of 2018, the media ran wild with stories about serious consequences for vaping and driving in the UK. Of course they did! Just like they do with exploding e-cig stories. The real story is that there is potential to be charged for driving without due care and attention if vaping distracts the driver or if the vapor in the car clearly impedes the driver’s view. Driving without due care and attention can draw a fine and loss of points. A loss of license would only be in an egregious case with what the law calls “aggravating factors”. No one has gone to jail for vaping and driving in the UK! UK police officers asked about the story said that while they do notice distracted drivers texting, people driving unsafely because of vaping is not something they come across. The story was much ado about nothing.
That brings us to our main topic. Is vaping and driving illegal in the United States? Just like in the UK, vaping and driving could potentially be a violation under extreme circumstances. We will go over some of the laws as well as provide you with some tips to avoid trouble!
Vaping And Driving Laws In The US
There are no specific vaping and driving laws in the United States. However, all states have enacted distracted driving laws, especially to combat texting. Texting and driving laws prohibit the use of electronic hand held devices. That begs the question, does a vape mod qualify as an electronic device under texting and driving statutes. According to at least one judge in New York, the answer is yes.
A New York driver was charged for distracted driving under the state’s texting and driving laws. This is where it can get confusing.
Here is the actual wording of the New York law:
(a) “Portable electronic device” shall mean any hand-held mobile telephone, as defined by subdivision one of section twelve hundred twenty-five-c of this article, personal digital assistant (PDA), handheld device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device.
(b) “Using” shall mean holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages, or other electronic data.
Upon reading the definition of an electronic device, it would seem that a vape mod would be excluded from this list. However, a vape mod, unless it is a mechanical mod, does have computing capacity. By the letter of the law, a vape mod would qualify. Indeed, a New York judge determined that an electronic cigarette mod did qualify and the fine levied against the driver was upheld.
If a driver was vaping with a mech mod, a driver could technically argue that his or her mod has no computing capacity and is therefore exempt. But, convincing the judge of the difference between a mech mod and a regulated mod might be a difficult task! In summation, although rare, there is a precedent in New York that a driver can be charged for simply vaping and driving under texting and driving laws.
Vaping And Driving Fines Are Rare
In researching this article, I could not find any other cases of a driver being charged for vaping and driving in the United States. It may have happened and if you know of a case, please lest us know.
In several other states, the language of the texting and driving laws specifically apply to mobile communication devices. It would be worth a moment to understand the exact wording of the laws in your state.
It is important to note that there are no active campaigns to crack down on vaping and driving. These decisions are left to the officers and judges. Typically, it would stand to reason that if someone is vaping and driving in an unsafe manner, that may draw the attention of law enforcement. In addition to texting and driving laws, there are other laws that could potentially be enforced on vaping and driving cases.
Driving With An Obstructed Windshield
When we think about driving with an obstructed windshield, we think about cracks or having a physical obstruction blocking the driver’s view. But the law leaves much open to interpretation. Once again, it could all come down to what a police officer assesses at the time.
Virtually every state has laws regarding obstructed windshields. In the majority of states, the language of the law states that:
- No items can be suspended between the driver and the windshield that could obstruct view.
- There can be no non-transparent materials covering any windshields, side, or rear windows.
The language of the law allows for a wide interpretation of “items” and “non-transparent materials”. A thick cloud of vapor could be considered to be both an “item” or a “non-transparent material”. You can’t see through a vape cloud! Especially with some of today’s powerful vape kits and e-cig mods as well as the best sub ohm vape tanks.
The police are not specifically looking to go after vapers for vaping in a car. But be aware that driving in a vehicle that is full of thick vapor that clearly obstructs the view could draw an officer’s attention. It is clearly unsafe to drive without a clear view. Common sense dictates that any driver clod chasing in a car could be subject to a fine. The police are responsible for the safety of all driver’s on the road. So if anyone is vaping heavily in a car, make sure to have a window down and keep a clear view of the road.
Reckless and Careless Driving
Reckless and careless driving laws across America cover a huge range of unsafe driving practices.
- Careless driving can result in fines or loss of points.
- Reckless driving is more serious and defined as a wanton disregard for safety. Reckless driving does not have to be intentional, but it is reserved for more egregious offenses like driving at extreme speeds. A conviction for reckless driving can lead to fines, a loss of license, or potentially incarceration if the reckless act leads to harm.
In terms of vaping and driving, a charge of careless driving might apply to trying to refill a vape tank while driving. Don’t do that! Nor should a driver adjust wattage while driving because that takes attention off the road. In fact, eating and driving can potentially lead to careless driving. I think we would all agree that taking one’s eyes off the road is indeed careless.
If a driver is distracted by dripping juice on an RDA and as a result ends up speeding and swerving all over the road, taking out mailboxes, then a case might be made for reckless driving. The bottom line is that drivers are responsible for the safe operation of a vehicle at all times. Keeping that in mind will keep you out of trouble!
Vaping With Kids In The Vehicle
Many states have enacted laws prohibiting smoking in a vehicle where there are minor children passengers. In other words, it is illegal to smoke with kids in the car. In California for example, it is a $100 fine to smoke with kids in the vehicle. Under California law, and other states, the language of the law describes smoking as using tobacco products. Vapor products are considered to be tobacco products. Therefore, it is also illegal to vape with kids in the car.
We do not have any reports of fines issued for people vaping with children in a vehicle. But by the letter of the law, a police office can issue a ticket for doing so. Don’t vape with kids in a car. Standard vaping etiquette applies. That is common sense and we know that most vapers avoid vaping around children.
Rumors About Vaping And Driving Crackdowns
Not long ago, there were a number of rumors floating around about a nationwide crackdown on vaping and driving. The story even made its way into the media. The rumor was that eleven states across the country were planning an outright ban on vaping and driving. The story said that the Department of Transportation was pressuring states to ban vaping while driving. The entire story was a put-on. A gag to get some attention. There is no DOT effort to ban driving and vaping.
- There are no current or past efforts by the Department of Transportation to ban vaping and driving.
- As of summer 2018, there are no specific laws that apply to vaping while driving.
Guidelines For Vaping While Driving
If there are no children in a vehicle, if a vaper is driving alone, or if other adult passengers consent, it is understandable to want to have a vape while driving. It is important to know the risks. More crucially, it is more important that vaping does not distract the driver. It is the responsibility of the driver to operate a vehicle safely and within the rules of the road.
Ideally, it would be best to wait until you are not driving before vaping. The next best course of action would be to wait until stopped at a red light or stop sign before having a vape. If you are going to vape while driving, here are a few tips:
- Have a window open when vaping in a car. Blow the vapor out of an open window.
- Don’t cloud chase or sub ohm vape in a vehicle with the windows up. Always make sure that the view of the road is clear and free from any visual obstruction.
- Never drip, adjust settings, or refill a vape tank while driving.
- Never vape with kids in the car.
- Do not throw used coils or empty vape juice bottles out the window!
- Try to only have a vape when stopped and safe to do so.
Following these guidelines does not guarantee you will not get a ticket! As we learned from the New York case, if a police officer determines that using a vape is akin to texting, there is a possibility of a ticket. But from all available information, law enforcement is not targeting vapers. If a driver is operating his or her vehicle safely and responsibly, there should be no problem. Always keep in mind that the first responsibility is driving safely!