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Smartwatches and Distracted Driving Laws

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Technology enthusiasts across the world have been enjoying the current big thing: The Internet of Things. These things include smart lightbulbs, smart thermostats, smart refrigerators, smart water bottles, and of course, smartwatches. After the release of Apple's update to their iconic smartwatch, there has been much discussion about whether these new wearables increase the risk of distracted driving.

While one might think, at first blush, that a smartwatch would qualify as a "hands-free" device, it is in fact the exact opposite. While notifications may appear on the screen without having to touch the screen, simply by virtue of where the watch is worn, it literally requires your hand. Viewing the screen while driving can require taking your hand off the wheel, as well as focusing on a tiny, brightly lit screen. Basically, using a smartwatch while driving is a recipe for disaster, and can make proving negligence against you much easier if an auto accident occurs.

Smartwatches Distract Just Like Phones or Worse

The Tech Times is reporting that a UK based road safety group, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), is warning that smartwatches are potentially more dangerous than smartphones. While many smartphones can be operated with one hand, a smartwatch actually requires two hands. One hand to wear the device, and the other hand to operate it.

Additionally, the IAM warns that Smartwatches will require the regular attention of motorists as they receive alerts. Unlike phones which can be left in a pocket, purse or cup-holder and ignored, a wearable will vibrate, beep, or even light up, directly on a drivers wrist, begging to be checked.

Laws vary state to state, but generally, if it is not legal to use or hold your phone while driving, it's not going to be legal to use your smartwatch. Most states have enacted laws requiring or allowing the use of hands-free devices, and smartwatches are not hands-free.

While most states may not have laws directly related to wearable technology, most have open-ended distracted driving laws on their books which provide officers discretion to decide whether a driver was distracted.

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