Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hello, I'm Tom Elliott, and I Smoke While Driving

I have a confession. Sometimes, when I'm all alone, when I'm relaxing in the privacy of my car, when I'm at one with myself and the open road, I smoke a cigarette. I enjoy it. I find it helps train the mind. When it's been a long trip and I'm starting to fade, nicotine reliably refocuses to the task at hand. Cigarettes, in my mind, help make the trip safer. Not only by boosting energy, but by bringing a sense of pleasure to driving. While others react frantically to an onset of traffic, cutting others off in road-rage inspired mania, I'll reach for a Camel Light, turn up the music, and relax.

So lucky for me, then, that this seemingly personal recreation is now being targeted by the health fanatics of the world. The Guardian reports on an effort to ban Smoking While Driving in Britain:
Britain's senior road safety campaigners are calling for a ban on smoking while driving, in an attempt to cut the number of crashes.

The Department of Health said last night that it would seriously consider a ban, which is also being looked at in Germany, Australia and America. The move was backed by anti-smoking campaigners but drew criticism from others as an attack on personal freedom. From 1 July, England will join the rest of the UK by introducing a ban on smoking in enclosed public places and at work.
How is Smoking While Driving dangerous?
The association claims that drivers are in danger when they take their hands off the wheel to find, light and smoke cigarettes, and are particularly at risk if a lit cigarette or ash falls in the car or is blown back through the window. The organisation, which represents 180 of Britain's 200 local roads authorities, fears that once people who drive are stopped from lighting up in other places from 1 July, they will smoke more while in their own cars.
The Guardian goes on to helpfully note that "Last year there were 3,201 deaths on Britain's roads." How many of these deaths were caused by Smoking While Driving is unclear. I'd guess somewhere near zero. Sure, smoking can be distracting -- though I somehow doubt I'm the only one who's able to retrieve a cigarette, use the car lighter, push the window-down button, all without taking my eyes off the road. The reality is that Smoking While Driving can be perfectly safe.

A spokesman for the association, Simon Ettinghausen, said: "In this country, we're libertarians, we like to give people freedoms, but if you are distracted unfortunately your freedom to do these things can affect other people's lives."

We like to give people freedoms. Ettinghausen's high opinion of himself notwithstanding, public officials don't "give people freedoms." People are born free. It is only upon first confronting government, with its monopoly hold on coercive power, that an individual's naturally-endowed liberty is curtailed.

Universally limiting liberty should only be done under the most dire of circumstances. The apparently empirically baseless notion that banning Smoking While Driving enhances safety is anything but.

(H/t: Karol)

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