Blog What Will The Apple Watch Mean Driving Laws?

Apr 24, 2015

How Should A Smartwatch Be Treated Under The Law?

Will Smartwatches like the new Apple Watch create even more distractions for Ontario drivers?

The new Apple Watch is due for release April 24th for pre-orders. Apple’s luxury smartwatch can do all kinds of cool things like summon Siri, check your heartrate, see which friends are nearby, draw a picture or send a message. For drivers, insurers and law enforcement, however, the new smartwatch raises some interesting and concerning questions. How should a watch – albeit a smartwatch – be treated under the law? Is looking at a watch considered distracted driving in Ontario?

Apple’s Watch is not the first on the smartwatch market. But with predictions 4 million in sales by BofA Merrill Lynch in 2015 alone [Source CBC], wearable technology is about to become much more prevalent. Increased usage will demand that lawmakers:

  • Clarify existing distracted driving laws for this new technology
  • Determine how existing distracted driving laws will be enforced
  • Decide whether new laws need to be enacted

The Apple Watch: Functionality That Demands Your Attention

Here are just a few of the cool things you can do with the Apple Watch – whether you’re driving or not.

  1. With the tap of a button on the side of the smartwatch, access your customized inner circle of ‘Friends’
  2. Make a call
  3. Summon Siri to complete a task  
  4. Send a message
  5. Sketch an image (your friend will see it as you draw)
  6. Check your heart rate
  7. Nudge a friend with a customized tap so they know it’s you 

All this “coolness” means a lot of connectivity with friends and family. But how connected are you with your driving? Checking your heartrate, drawing a picture, making a call requires you to focus on the task and takes your attention from driving.

So, Does Ontario’s Distracted Driving Law Cover Smartwatches?

This is the big question.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s website, “it is illegal for drivers to talk, text, type, dial or email using hand-held cell phones and other hand-held communications and entertainment devices.

Is A Smartwatch Hands-free? 

The smartwatch may not be considered a ‘hand-held device’ since you wear it on your wrist. As OPP Sgt Schmidt said, in a CBC article, "The actual definition of distracted driving (in Ontario) is driving with a hand-held communication device, so I think it would be somewhat difficult for the courts to accept (a smartwatch) was hand-held, (since) it's strapped to your wrist."

Ontario’s distracted driving legislation defines hands-free as, “Any device that you do not touch, hold or manipulate while driving, other than to activate or deactivate it.” According to this definition, Apple’s Watch or an Android smartwatch would not be hands-free as soon as you touched it after activating it.

Distracted Driving Or Not, Ontario Law Enforcement Officers Still Caution Drivers About Using Smartwaches While Driving

Smartwatches land in a grey area for Ontario’s distracted driving laws. To date, the courts and police have not had to clarify their stand on wearable technology. The arrival of the popular Apple Watch will change everything – since sales are forecasted to be 5 times greater than Android sales over the last 2 years. 

The Ministry of Transportation has made it clear that distracted driving may not be the offence you’re charged with for using your smartwatch. 

MTO - Ontario Distracted Driving Laws

Source: The Ontario Ministry of Transportation

There doesn’t seem to be much debate over the question whether smartwatches and other wearable technology create a distraction to driving. Ian Jack of The Canadian Automobile Association told CBC back in September 2014 that recent academic research confirms that hands-free communication isn’t any less distracting than hand-held communication. And voice activation engages a significant portion of your brain. 

Now What?

The advent of a popular smartwatch such as Apple’s Watch will demand that lawmakers revisit the Distracted Driving laws in Ontario. What’s more, enforcement officers will need to consider how to address distracted driving when pulling someone over.

Most importantly, drivers will have to think carefully about the impact of wearable technology on the road.

Here are some other articles on saving on Car Insurance that might interest you:

Distracted Driving in Ontario : Laws, Fines, Statistics and Tips
Ontario Distracted Driving Fines Increased To $1000
Close To 50% Of Ontario Teen Drivers Are Texting While Driving

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