A New Yorker was recently pulled over and given a ticket for using an electronic cigarette while driving. Could this really be the next big fight that vapers face in defending their right to vape?
As the story goes, Jason Dewing is using an electronic cigarette while on the road. He gets pulled over and is given a ticket for using a portable electronic device while driving — which in New York is illegal, but normally constitutes use of a cell phone. The story gets a little weirder though. Initially the ticket cited a cell phone as the device Dewing was using, but the court still ruled against Dewing for using an electronic cigarette while driving under the same law. After the ruling however, the judge found out that electronic cigarettes were not defined as portable electronic devices for the purposes of that law and admitted that had he known before the ruling, he would have dismissed the ticket. Now Dewing has to appeal — but it sound likely to succeed. In short, the word of the law was stretched a bit to include Dewing’s electronic cigarette within this realm of ticketable offenses.
While an electronic cigarette is certainly a portable electronic device, the law lists those portable devices which it is intended to discourage use of while driving. This includes cell phones, PDAs, laptops, pagers, electronic games, and a few more specifically listed devices. The common thread tends to be that these devices require more than minimal attention to operate. Without particular inclusion of electronic cigarettes within this law, many argue the ticket is bunk.
If the definition is taken too loosely in order to include electronic cigarettes, then even car stereos, police radios, and wrist watches could count as portable electronic devices which should not be operated while driving. Given that electronic cigarette in normal use require nothing more than a draw or single button press, it’s hard to argue they normally distract to the degree necessary to require police action.
However, it would not be surprising to see state legislators pursue this kind of extension of the law — to make vaping while driving illegal. The arguments would likely fall on how much more complex e-cig use is than smoking (lest they have to ban smoking while driving too), that e-cig use (like smoking) should be discouraged anyway, that kids in other cars might see it and think it’s okay to do (Oh my god, the kids!), and even that vapor (despite vanishing entirely in seconds) might obstruct a driver’s view.
None of these arguments seem like they’ll stand up too well under scrutiny, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be made. Especially in places like New York which seem willing to put up with nanny legislation. And really, it only takes one traffic accident in which a single electronic cigarette is found in one of the vehicles for people to start claiming that it’s proof vapers are distracted drivers. This is no different than claiming that a violent kid was clearly influenced by his violent video games when 99% of the kids out there with violent video games don’t act violent at all.
Still, we hope all you vapers out there drive safe.