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Smoking bans in private vehicles exist to protect passengers from secondhand smoke and to increase road traffic safety, e.g. by preventing the driver from being distracted by the act of smoking. Private vehicles are used by individuals for personal transportation; smoking bans in private vehicles are less common than bans extended to public transport or vehicles used during work, like trucks or police cars.
The acts of looking for, reaching for, and then lighting cigarettes can considerably distract the driver. A burning cigarette or marijuana joint that has fallen into the driver's lap might lead to panic-like reactions. Cigarette stubs thrown out of a window pose a serious fire threat. Some serious traffic accidents in Germany are known to have been caused by a lit cigarette. Some German tribunals have commented on the imprudence of smoking while driving. Smoking may be compared to using a cell phone while driving, which is also banned in some jurisdictions.
More recently, the dangers of secondhand smoke have seen more attention, and smoking in a car (whether in motion or not) is banned in some jurisdictions as a measure against passive smoking. Some laws stipulate that such a ban applies only when a passenger is under a certain age.
Cigarettes or cigarette litter thrown out of the window of cars moving through a vegetated area (particularly during the hot season) is one of the causes of wildfires or bushfires. A southern France firefighters' department statistic attributes 16% of local bushfires to cigarette litter thrown out of moving vehicles (and 13.8% to cigarette litter from pedestrians).
In the Australian Capital Territory, a smoking ban in cars with minors under the age of 16 has existed since May 2012. An on the spot fine of 250 Australian dollars will be applicable, or court fines up to 5,500 Australian dollars.
In New South Wales a smoking ban in cars with minors under the age of 16 has existed since July 2009. There is an on the spot fine of 250 Australian dollars for drivers or passengers, with a maximum fine of 1,100 Australian dollars if disputed.
In Victoria a smoking ban in cars with minors under the age of 18 has existed since 1 January 2010.
Since 13 April 2009, smoking in cars with accompanying children is banned in Bahrain.
Smoking with anyone under the age of 16 present in a vehicle is currently banned in the Provinces of British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador (starting 31 May 2011), Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Yukon Territory. Smoking is banned in vehicles with persons under the age of 19 present in Nova Scotia.
On Mauritius smoking is prohibited in any car carrying passengers, since 2008.
A law prohibiting smoking in private vehicles with minors under the age of 12 has been voted.
On Wednesday, 6 January 2010 a federal law (superseding the smoking bans which already existed in most of the emirates) was signed. Among other provisions, it introduces a Smoking ban in private vehicles in the presence of children under the age of 12.
A smoking ban in cars with children already exists in Arkansas (<14), California (<18), Louisiana (<13), Maine (<16), Oregon (<18), Puerto Rico (<13) and Utah (<15). (age of child varies by state)
Hawaii, Indiana, New Jersey and New York have cities or counties that ban it but not the whole state.
Finland intends to ban smoking in cars while children are present. Furthermore, smoking in places where children are present is to be banned generally.
Irish anti-smoking campaigners and scientists are urging the government to introduce such a ban. In July 2011 the Minister for Health revealed that he was considering a ban where children are present in the car.
Similar plans exist in the Netherlands.