LONDON, Sep 29 (Reuters) Motorists who smoke at the wheel could be prosecuted if their habit is proved to have stopped them driving safely, under a new rule in the revised edition of the Highway Code.
Any arrest would be at the discretion of the police officer stopping the vehicle.
''They could face charges yes, but it's only if someone was deemed not to be in proper control of the vehicle and a danger to road users,'' said a Department of Transport spokesman, stressing the advisory nature of the safety rule.
''Smoking has been added for the first time to a long list of other potential distractions which include playing loud music, eating and drinking, changing a CD or turning on a radio,'' he said.
He said the measure was added after evidence revealed smoking at the wheel had caused or contributed to accidents.
''There are cases where smoking has been taking place and an accident has occurred,'' he added.
The measure is one of 29 new rules that have been added to the Highway Code, in its first revision for eight years.
Critics rounded on the decision, with some saying the smoking recommendation could cause more crashes.
''The problem here is that there's no evidence from anywhere in the world that smoking is a significant contributory factor in crashes,'' said Paul Smith, founder of SafeSpeed.org.uk.
''I'm sick and tired of knee-jerk road safety policies based on pet theories rather than scientific evidence,'' he said describing the transport department as cavalier.
He said the concentration of a motorist who was a smoker could be disturbed precisely because of the frustrated desire for a cigarette.
Reuters SW DB1004