A video of a driver flicking what appears to be a cigarette out the window prompted outrage online in 2018. (screenshot)

Drivesmart column: The world is my ashtray

Some people always toss their butts out the window regardless of the time of year or risk

By Tim Schewe

I found myself waiting for a red light behind another vehicle this week. That vehicle’s driver had his window down, his elbow on the sill and was holding what was left of his cigarette between left thumb and forefinger. I knew exactly what was going to happen: one last drag on the butt and flick, away it went into the ditch.

What’s more, if I looked to my left I would almost think that I was stopped next to an ashtray. The ground was covered with discarded butts left to smoulder into oblivion by people who probably didn’t stop to think of the potential for destruction that their action represented.

I agree, between October and April of each year there might not be a lot of risk, but once the habit is formed it will continue through May to September without a second thought.

The best illustration of this were drivers that I had stopped for a traffic violation. Occasionally as I walked up to the driver’s door they would toss a butt out onto the pavement. I would offer to pick it up but warned that it would cost them if I did. They could choose to do it themselves for free.

There was usually a pause at this point while the driver tried to decide if I was serious or not. Sometimes it took a while, but all of them eventually decided I was and got out to retrieve their garbage.

Now what? In many of these situations the ashtray in the vehicle was as clean as the day it had been installed at the factory. The driver would look around for something else to use and only reluctantly put it in the ashtray as a last resort.

Obviously, some people always toss their butts out the window regardless of the time of year or risk in doing so.

One might think that even if a fire were to start, the grassy median between two strips of double laned asphalt would contain it and nothing too serious would happen. My experience shows otherwise, as I have seen median fires fanned by winds that easily jumped across the pavement and either started into the forest or toward homes and businesses.

Half of the forest fires in B.C. each year are caused by human activity and smoking materials are high on the list of culprits.

If you are a smoker, please use your ashtray. If you don’t, you never know who might be watching and may choose to provide your licence plate number to police. A violation ticket for discarding that butt under the Wildfire Act carries a penalty of $575 no matter what time of year it is.

The case of R v Barre is an example of instances that are dealt with by a court appearance rather than a traffic ticket. Mr. Barre admitted starting the Barriere McLure fire in July 2003.

There is no indication that Mr. Barre was required to pay for fire control costs, but there is provision for this in the Wildfire Act.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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