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Smart Watches and Driving

They are the hip new accessory, watches that tell time, take step counts, monitor heartbeats, and now even text, George Jetson’s miraculous technology has come to life. However, could these nifty devices become too distracting for drivers?

Distracted driving is quickly becoming a leading cause of automobile accidents in America. From texting to picture taking, phones are one of the biggest distractions in our highly plugged-in lifestyle. Texting can take a driver’s eyes off the road for enough time to miss someone merging into your lane, to miss a light changing, or to miss road hazards. But what about a wristwatch?

First, the laws regarding handheld devices while driving differ from state to state and country to country. In DC, the law reads:

No person shall use a mobile telephone or other electronic devices while operating a moving motor vehicle in the District of Columbia unless the telephone or device is equipped with a hands-free accessory.

But in Virginia, the law is:

  1. It is unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to:
  2. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
  3. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored within the device nor to any caller identification information.

These laws can get very confusing for drivers crossing state lines or simply visiting a new area, especially when they have such stark differences. In every case, however, the device is described as hand-held, which begs the question, do watches count?

Technology is evolving too quickly for the laws to keep up, but that hasn’t stopped police from interpreting the laws themselves. In Canada, a man was charged $120 for using his Apple Watch while driving. The man stated that he was simply changing the song playing through his car’s Bluetooth speakers, but the police felt that the very act of using an electronic device while driving was dangerous enough. Safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but what criteria are police and legislators going to use to pick and choose their banned “electronic devices,” assuming they begin to change these distracted driving laws? An E-Cigarette is electronic, smartwatches are electronic, and with the advent of Google Glass last year, even glasses, corrective or fashionable, are becoming electronic.

It may seem overly cautious, but smartwatches can be extremely distracting. Every time an email, text message, or even a “like” on Facebook or Instagram is received, the watch will buzz on your wrist (this applies to most smartwatches. Even the Fitbit notifies the wearer of a text message. That small vibration will cut your focus on the road and cause you to look at the watch face.

There’s almost a biological urge to read and answer all notifications. Anything that causes a driver to look away from the road is cause for concern, and smartwatches are too tempting not to be dangerous. Luckily, the technology in cars is also advancing, allowing the vehicle to connect to the phone or electronic device to minimize any attention being diverted from the road. Now cars can change the song, can answer calls, and some can even use voice command for texting. Many cars with these capabilities have also begun to ban the voice command texting unless the car is in park. Remember, even Bluetooth can distract and should be used sparingly.

The real issue at hand is what will distract you when you drive? If your wrist buzzes once or maybe 15 times, will you be tempted to look at the watch face while driving, or perhaps at a red light? If yes, then that watch has become nothing more than a phone bangle and should be properly stowed away, out of arms reach. You don’t need to read any message immediately; staying alive and safe is more important. Until the laws are more adequately defined, we, the drivers, must take safety and distraction into our own hands, or wrists. Interpret the laws for yourself and know yourself, for you don’t need a watch to read the car clock, and you don’t need a step counter when you’re stationary.

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