Traffic

The state literally is on fire, so please keep that lit cigarette inside your car

A man smokes a cigarette while driving in Tacoma. It’s illegal to throw cigarette butts out your car window, and doing so could result in a steep ticket, according to Washington State Patrol.
A man smokes a cigarette while driving in Tacoma. It’s illegal to throw cigarette butts out your car window, and doing so could result in a steep ticket, according to Washington State Patrol. phaley@thenewstribune.com

Q: Is it legal to throw cigarette butts out of your car window?

A: Nope. Definitely not.

This one seems obvious, but given what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest, it’s probably worth a reminder.

This week, wildfires raged up and down the West Coast, including a huge blaze in the Columbia River Gorge that apparently was started by teenagers playing with fireworks.

In our own backyard, two fires are burning, one chewing up so much land that it’s become bigger than the city of Tacoma.

Even if you hadn’t heard about those fires, you’ve surely experienced the collateral effects, including the smoky haze that blanketed the sky for days and made our eyes burn and throats scratchy. Until cooler temperatures prevailed on Friday and a tiny bit of rain fell, we were living in a smoky hellscape that drew comparisons to Tatooine and even Mordor (though that one seems a bit hyperbolic).

But back to the cigarettes.

Brush fires often start on the sides of highways. Are they ever started by lit cigarette butts? Yes.

When a fire starts to lick, do conditions sometimes conspire so that it quickly billows out of control, scorching miles of earth and becoming dangerous? Yes.

If those facts doesn’t dissuade you from flicking your lit butt out the window, maybe this will: If a cop catches you, you could be slapped with a $1,025 fine.

Let that sink in. You could buy well over 100 packs of cigarettes with that cash.

According to Sgt. James Prouty of the Washington State Patrol, from January to August, troopers made 364 stops for people flicking lit cigarettes, termed “lit debris,” out car windows.

“We just ask that people use their ashtrays in their vehicles if they are choosing to smoke anything while they’re driving,” Prouty said. “We don’t want them to deposit lit debris because we’ve seen the ramifications of that and consequences. Even though we’re getting a little rain now, it’s still dry, and it can still cause a big problem.”

According to state law, there are higher fines for littering tobacco products and other dangerous items, including things like broken glass and human waste.

So consider the dry summer we’ve had — and that steep fine — the next time you light up in your car.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud

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