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UK Safety Advocates Say Apple Watch Will Distract Drivers

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Apple Watch Sport

Apple Watch Sport

Wearing the new Apple Watch puts drivers at risk of accidents, says the United Kingdom’s Institute for Advanced Motorists (IAM), as Paul Eisenstein of The Detroit Bureau writes in an article appearing on MSN Autos. The Institute (the UK’s largest charity devoted to improving safety for drivers, bicyclists, and motorcyclists) says the Apple Watch “could significantly impair driving performance — being a major cause for distraction and road accidents,” Eisenstein writes.

The UK’s Department of Transport says that anyone using an Apple Watch while driving is subject to the same penalty as anyone using a handheld mobile phone: a £100 fine (about $163), and three license penalty points, IAM writes. If a driver wearing an Apple Watch causes a fatal car accident, he or she will be given a two-year prison term, IAM writes.

The Apple Watch, unofficially introduced this month at Apple’s autumn media event in Cupertino, Calif., sends and receives messages, calls, and audio recordings; plays music like an iPod; tracks fitness; and is a portal to other apps, writes CNET. The website adds that the Apple Watch, which will sell for a starting price of $349 starting early next year, is “the first mainstream wearable” that supports mobile payments, and will make it possible for wearers to swipe to pay at stores and perhaps pay for things online as well. Because the watch is designed to be connected to an iPhone, some people might wonder why they need it, CNET writes, if it is simply a “redundant gadget.”

In a press release, IAM writes:

Constant alerts will require motorists’ regular attention. As opposed to using a legal hands-free piece of equipment the iWatch will require drivers to use two hands to operate the device – impacting speed, lane position and time spent looking at the road.

Neil Greig, IAM Director of Policy and Research said: ‘An iWatch has the potential to be just as distracting as any other smartphone device. Indeed more so if you have to take your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road to interact with it.’

The Institute cites a study finding that distracted driving has been blamed for 54,000 crashes in Britain between 2010 and 2012, Eisenstein writes. He reports that U.S. regulators have not made any statements about the Apple Watch yet. There have been many campaigns in the U.S. to prevent distracted driving, which is believed to cause one out of every 11 crashes in the U.S., Eisenstein notes. He spoke with Russ Rader, a senior vice president at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who said IIHS is concerned about potential accidents that an Apple Watch could cause. However, Rader said that focusing on one item “misses the point,” and that safety advocates and regulators should address the broader issue of distracted driving.

A commenter named jamesrush posted the following comment to an article on the UK penalty by Zachary Spiro and Gregory Walton in The Telegraph:

In an environment where it’s clear that large numbers of people seem incapable of functioning without constant connection to one of these idiot boxes and appear to suffer from a psychotic need to be in contact with anyone and everyone 24 hours a day, the solution will be – paradoxically – provided by technology.

Tamper-proof ‘Cell-phone Jammers’ will have to [be] fitted to every vehicle (and their functioning will need to be part of the MOT), designed so the offending device can only be used when the car or truck is stationary.

In the meantime, fines should be increased significantly, with an automatic three year ban.

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