Blog What Will The Apple Watch Mean For Driving Laws?

Apr 24, 2015

How Should A Smartwatch Be Treated Under The Law?

graphic comparing smartwatches and distracted driving

The new Apple Watch is due for release April 24th for pre-orders. The luxury smartwatch can do all kinds of unique things like summon Siri, check your heart rate, 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 it be treated under the law? Is looking at this technology 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

Why Is Wearable Smart Technology Worth It?

Here are just a few of the features you can use it for, whether you're driving or not.

  • With the tap of a button on the side of the smartwatch, access your customized inner circle of friends and family
  • Make a call
  • Summon Siri to complete a task
  • Send a message
  • Sketch an image (your friend will see it as you draw)
  • Check your heart rate
  • Nudge a friend with a customized tap so they know it's you

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

Can Drivers Use Wearable Technology While Driving?

This is the big question.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation 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, a smartwatch would not be hands-free as soon as you touched it after activating it.

Distracted Driving Or Not, Law Enforcement Officers 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. The 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 offense 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 of 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 will demand that lawmakers revisit the distracted driving laws and 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.

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