Could smartwatches be a new danger behind the wheel?

Could smartwatches be a new danger behind the wheel?

Road safety campaigners are calling for a ban on the use of wearable technology, including smartwatches, by drivers. Smartwatches from high-tech giants Samsung, Sony, Motorola and LG - which can be used for calls, texts and calendar notifications - are for sale in New Zealand. Apple is releasing its Apple Watch here later this year. Laws banning drivers' use of phones - with an $80 fine and 20 demerit points - do not cover the use of wearable technology. Caroline Perry, of road safety charity Brake, said the law should be widened, stating motorists using smart technology on their watches while driving should face the same sanctions.


"Smartwatches and other wearable technology are extremely distracting if used while driving.

Our advice to drivers is to take them off and put them out of reach so that you aren't tempted to use them at the wheel."

Governments around the world are taking action over motorists using wearable technology. Canadians can face fines of up to $120 for using smartwatches while driving. In the UK, motorists using a smartwatch face the same $442 fine as motorists caught on a phone.

British research shows the use of a wearable device may be even more distracting than a handheld mobile phone.

A recent study showed a driver reading a smartwatch message took 2.52 seconds to react to an emergency situation. A driver talking to a passenger would react in 0.9 seconds and someone on a mobile phone would respond in 1.85 seconds.

With the rising trend of wearable technology and young people's passion (where affordable) for access to the cutting edge of technology, it won't belong before these gadgets are as common as the smartphone. As always, new technology brings some great benefits to life as well as some serious potential risks. In terms of distracted driving (and distracted pedestrians for that matter) the approach must be a simple one; no matter what the distraction, doing it behind the wheel could be disastrous.

distracted driving banner
Read more about Distracted Driving in the Youth and Road Safety Action Kit

Multitasking and driving don’t mix. Even for skilled and experienced drivers, driving safely requires that you use most, if not all, of your mental capacity: it doesn’t take much for your driving to be distracted.

For example, when talking on a mobile phone, one of your hands is holding the phone; your mind is on your conversation; your attention is on the sounds coming from the phone; and although your eyes are on the road, you will not be really ‘seeing’ what is happening around you. Using an earpiece will not solve the problem. You still haveto press a button to take the call; your attention will still be on the voice of the person talking to you, your mind will be processing what you are hearing, and you’ll be thinking of what to say next. The only distraction you have avoided is that of having to carry the phone in your hand.

Smartwatches are on the rise and are ultimately adding to the number of potential distractions behind the wheel.

Distracted driving is a serious and growing threat to road safety. With more and more people owning mobile phones, and the rapid introduction of new “in-vehicle” communication systems, this problem is likely to escalate globally in the coming years. This Report focuses on the use of mobile phones while driving as one example of the broader problem of driver distraction. - Mobile phone use: a growing problem of driver distraction - WHO

The result is that drivers using a phone to talk, text, or browse the internet are less able to stay in the appropriate lane, detect any changes around them and respond in time. Drivers talking on the phone are also more likely to exceed the speed limit and not maintain a consistent speed. When texting, people often drive at lower speeds, but their delayed reaction time and inability to maintain appropriate lane positions and assess traffic conditions still makes texting while driving extremely dangerous. Read more about this article from New Zealand.




Download the Youth and Road Safety Action Kit
Mobile phone use: a growing problem of driver distraction