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Should we ban smart watches while driving?

By Alexandra Craig - 1 September 2015 41

woman driving wearing smart watch

Using a mobile phone while driving has been an offence for quite some time now. But what about sending an SMS from an object that isn’t a phone?

My partner bought an Apple Watch on the weekend. Besides the fact that I think this product is a pointless piece of junk and a huge waste of money, it got me thinking about the ramifications of certain ways this type of technology is used.

We were driving along and when we stopped at a set of traffic lights, my partner looked down and read an SMS on his watch. Obviously it’s against the law to look at your phone when you’re at a set of lights, but things aren’t as clear if you’re using an Apple Watch.

Police say Apple Watches are treated the same as mobile phones, and that if you’re caught using one while driving you will be fined. On the other hand, lawyers say it’s a grey area. They say a watch can only be defined as a mobile phone if it can independently make calls and send/receive text messages.

Either way, this throws up all sorts of questions. If you glance over at someone in another vehicle who’s looking at their watch, it’s difficult to know for sure whether they’re reading an SMS or email. But they’re equally as distracted.

(Yes, I did tell my partner to stop looking at his watch and gave him a five minute lecture on why it’s the same as being on his phone.)

You can’t compose messages or emails on Apple watches unless you use voice recognition which may prevent people from looking at their phones. But what’s to stop a driver pulling their phone out of their pocket or handbag when they notice an SMS come through on their watch?

I’m stumped as to how preventing people from reading messages and emails from their watches can be enforced.

Aside from implementing a law that says you can’t touch your watch at all while you’re driving, I think it’ll be a tough one to police. How about you?

What’s Your opinion?


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41 Responses to
Should we ban smart watches while driving?
darkmilk 2:24 pm 02 Sep 15

astrojax said :

i will gesture at people i see on their phones while driving, getting them to put it down – usually get told where to go, but a few look aghast and promptly drop it. small steps.

This will date me, but I remember when mobile phones first started appearing in cars me and my uni mates would all quickly grab our shoes and pretend to be talking whenever we saw one in use 🙂

Seriously and on-topic though: the offences are for using a “communications device” while driving, whatever it is. So if you can prove you’re only checking the time on a smartwatch then I guess you can’t be charged with it, but a smartwatch gets the time from the internet/radio so even then it’s actually still a communications device, depending on how the lawyers and court plays out.
And for eating, drinking, makeup, changing radio stations etc there is already an offence: driving without due care. And as of 2014 if you swerve toward a ‘vulnerable road user” while doing that it’s automatically “aggravated” dangerous or negligent driving and a mandatory 12-month license loss – so definitely tell the driver if you think they’re not concentrating for any reason!

However, now getting into rant mode, the problem with driver behaviour currently is not one of a lack of offences and penalties, it’s one of enforcement – there is plenty of evidence that people’s behaviour only changes proportionally to the chance of getting caught not the magnitude of possible consequences. The burden of proof for the police officers is overwhelming for ‘minor’ offences so they just don’t bother most of the time; in my experience the AFP don’t even care for video of extremely dangerous incidents including minor accidents unless someone is injured – even in that case they have to be pushed into doing the paperwork to issue a small fine and then they’re done with it.

Evilomlap 1:16 pm 02 Sep 15

Alexandra Craig said :

That’s exactly why I think they’re stupid. You need the phone for the watch so just use the damn phone.

That’s the smartest comment I’ve read, anywhere, today. Totally agree.

Alexandra Craig 11:02 am 02 Sep 15

creative_canberran said :

My argument would be that the Apple Watch, like other smart watches, has no independent cellular connection and relies on the mobile phone device for much of its functionality. It is an extension of the mobile phone. The inputs made on it to make calls and read messages directly work the primary device and should be treated no different then.

That’s exactly why I think they’re stupid. You need the phone for the watch so just use the damn phone.

astrojax said :

If you glance over at someone in another vehicle who’s looking at their watch, it’s difficult to know for sure whether they’re reading an SMS or email.

or, like, the time..?

Yeah, except the screen on the watch isn’t that big, so you have to touch it to scroll down on messages and emails if they’re more than one sentence long.

astrojax 7:56 am 02 Sep 15

If you glance over at someone in another vehicle who’s looking at their watch, it’s difficult to know for sure whether they’re reading an SMS or email.

or, like, the time..?

i will gesture at people i see on their phones while driving, getting them to put it down – usually get told where to go, but a few look aghast and promptly drop it. small steps.

creative_canberran 9:52 pm 01 Sep 15

It is a grey area, and that isn’t helped by the fact the legislation is drafted to emphasises the mechanical, not the functional.

My argument would be that the Apple Watch, like other smart watches, has no independent cellular connection and relies on the mobile phone device for much of its functionality. It is an extension of the mobile phone. The inputs made on it to make calls and read messages directly work the primary device and should be treated no different then.

Now what your partner did was very stupid and regardless of the road rules distracted driving and negligence are blanket things to catch him on. But he wasn’t close to being as dangerous as the guy on Drakeford Dr this morning in peak hour driving one handed while eating a large sandwich. And yet driving and eating isn’t illegal yet.

rubaiyat 6:48 pm 01 Sep 15

watto23 said :

You can’t legislate against stupidity. I have a smart watch thingy. It is great from the point of view that if a message comes onto your phone, you can see the caller ID. If its an urgent call I can pull over safely. Note its only a glance, which is something one does with their mirrors (or should do).

The other thing is blue tooth while being completely hands free, still distracts a driver.
What we really need is driver re training and also I’m a firm believer of retesting for licences at least every 10 or 20 years and not making it easy to get them.

I think the ACT government should print a warning brochure.

As they do with gambling and drink driving.

Just make sure they include a note in 4pt type at the foot of the last page, not to read the brochure whilst driving.

Grail 4:01 pm 01 Sep 15

There is already an offense for distracted driving.

I think the word you are looking for is “operate” rather than “look at”. As in, it is illegal to operate anything that is not the car while driving. Operate is intentionally different to “use” or “look at” since the implication is that you are interacting with something and thus diverting your attention from the car you are operating.

The Apple Watch is no more or less a waste of money than any other wrist watch or item of bling.

watto23 3:31 pm 01 Sep 15

You can’t legislate against stupidity. I have a smart watch thingy. It is great from the point of view that if a message comes onto your phone, you can see the caller ID. If its an urgent call I can pull over safely. Note its only a glance, which is something one does with their mirrors (or should do).

The other thing is blue tooth while being completely hands free, still distracts a driver.
What we really need is driver re training and also I’m a firm believer of retesting for licences at least every 10 or 20 years and not making it easy to get them.

rubaiyat 1:08 pm 01 Sep 15

Evilomlap said :

Unfortunately there’s no law against being a moron.

Certainly none when they hand out that licence.

Glad you didn’t lose your legs.

I dropped my iPhone on the bus the other day when texting the other day and almost banged my head on the seat in front of me, so I know what that’s like.

rubaiyat 1:04 pm 01 Sep 15

Dame Canberra said :

I really don’t understand the whole smart watch thing either.

Apparently, according to the guy in the Apple Store, you can rearrange the icons.

Everything else needed the iPhone, next to it, that promptly disconnected in the middle of his demonstration.

To both our amusement. 🙂

Evilomlap 12:40 pm 01 Sep 15

It’s not about the device itself. It’s about inattention. Anything that diverts your attention from the road is potentially dangerous. I could have lost my legs in an accident that was my fault, caused in large part because of a momentary lapse in concentration on my part (not using a phone, I was just tired). Suffice it to say since then, I don’t use anything that diverts my attention while driving. I rarely even have the radio on.

The thing is, mobile phone laws have led to something far more dangerous: in an effort to not be seen ‘using’ their phones, people have resorted to what cops call ‘nodding’ – looking at the road, then down in their laps, back at the road, into their laps, and so on. Unfortunately there’s no law against being a moron.

Oh and there’s worse things your partner could be wasting money on, Alexandra 😛

Dame Canberra 12:13 pm 01 Sep 15

I really don’t understand the whole smart watch thing either. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to use any sort of mobile device when driving, but good luck to police trying to enforce it – it seems like it would be easier to be sneaky with a smart watch than a mobile phone.

Alexandra Craig 11:36 am 01 Sep 15

Mysteryman said :

“Obviously it’s against the law to look at your phone when you’re at a set of lights”

That’s not correct. It’s against the law to operate a mobile phone. There is no law against looking at one, just as there is no law against looking at the radio, your passenger, your analogue wristwatch, or your smart watch. And nor should there be laws against looking that them.

“But what’s to stop a driver pulling their phone out of their pocket or handbag when they notice an SMS come through on their watch?”

There are already laws against using a phone while driving. Just because the method of notification is different, doesn’t render the existing law moot. We live in a society that’s saturated with unnecessary legislation already. We shouldn’t be looking to add more.

When I say ‘look at your phone’ I mean hold it in your hand and look at the screen. There’s a video online somewhere of a police officer on a motorbike nabbing people looking at their phone (while holding it) at traffic lights.

Mysteryman 10:43 am 01 Sep 15

“Obviously it’s against the law to look at your phone when you’re at a set of lights”

That’s not correct. It’s against the law to operate a mobile phone. There is no law against looking at one, just as there is no law against looking at the radio, your passenger, your analogue wristwatch, or your smart watch. And nor should there be laws against looking that them.

“But what’s to stop a driver pulling their phone out of their pocket or handbag when they notice an SMS come through on their watch?”

There are already laws against using a phone while driving. Just because the method of notification is different, doesn’t render the existing law moot. We live in a society that’s saturated with unnecessary legislation already. We shouldn’t be looking to add more.

Solidarity 10:24 am 01 Sep 15

Sure, but the police need to clamp down on mobile phone use first (which is way easier to detect)

Personally I believe that mobile phone use is more dangerous than speeding, instant license dismissal would be fine with me.

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