FMCSA Warns: E-cigarettes and Commercial Vehicles are a Dangerous Combination

No Smoking, Roadway / Transportation, Safety News

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a Safety Advisory with information for owners and operators of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) concerning incidents and risks involving possession and use of battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices [e.g., e-cigarettes, e-cigs, e-cigars, e-pipes, e-hookahs, personal vaporizers, electronic nicotine delivery systems].

The use e-cigarettes has resulted in incidents including explosions, serious personal injuries and fires. The explosions regularly involved the ejection of a burning battery case or other components from the device which subsequently ignited nearby flammable or combustible materials.

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates there have been 25 incidents between 2009 and August 2014. However, news sources place the number of explosions at over 150. A number of these incidents have occurred while a device was being charged. Others have occurred during use or while simply carrying a device. As a result of incidents related to checked baggage, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 15003, citing fires in cargo holds of passenger aircraft due to the heating element of these devices being accidentally activated or left on.

E-cigarette Distractions While Driving

E-cigarettes create most of the same distractions to drivers as tobacco cigarettes:

  • Visual distraction. This occurs while drivers search around their car for their cigarettes and lighter;
  • Cognitive distraction. The driver’s brain is focused on finding and then lighting their cigarette
  • Manual distraction. This occurs because drivers are generally required to remove both hands from the wheel in order to light their cigarette. Once the cigarette is lit, the driver will keep driving with one hand off the steering wheel in order to smoke while driving. They will subsequently become distracted by the need to expel ash either into the car’s cigarette tray or out of the window. The entire process of lighting and smoking a cigarette while driving is extremely dangerous.

The Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations do not specifically address the potential safety risks posed by e-cigarettes. However, FMCSA urges motor carriers and drivers to:

  • Be aware of the risks associated with these devices
  • Exercise good judgment and appropriate discretion in their possession, storage, charging or use on, around or while operating a CMV
  • Adhere to the smoking prohibitions on, near, or when loading and unloading a motor vehicle transporting hazardous materials, in accordance with 49 CFR 177.834(c) and 397.13.