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Apple Smart Watch Distracts Drivers, Say Safety Advocates

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Apple Smart Watch

Apple Smart Watch

Safety advocates are concerned that the Apple Watch (which began shipping on April 24) will lead to more distracted driving, according to recent articles. Steve Smith writes for MediaPost that those concerns were sparked by the smartwatch’s “physical debut.” Smith goes on to say:

But these are not hysterics from the usual Luddites and Traditionalists who see social dissolution and moral erosion behind every modern gadget. This is the century-old National Safety Council [NSC], which was chartered by Congress in 1913 to partner with business to improve workplace and product safety. They issued a warning this weekend regarding smartwatches generally and singling out the functionality of the Apple Watch in particular. The problem? Driving with a smartwatch that is inches from the wheel.

It is not easy to dismiss the NSC’s concerns, Smith writes, as the watch not only makes it possible for wearers to call, text, and Web-surf — it vibrates when it receives a notification. And a vibration on one’s wrist could be hard to ignore, he writes. When a driver looks at that wrist, he or she is no longer looking at the road, which is “a recipe for disaster,” Smith writes.

“Just when we were getting used to keeping the damn phone in our pocket and resisting that buzz on your hip, we get something even more tempting and perhaps more disarming,” Smith writes. Although some people think that looking at a smartwatch is safer than looking at a phone, he writes, a UK study finds that that is not true. That study (which Smith does not cite), conducted on “pre-Apple Watch smartwatches,” found that reading a message on a smartwatch takes 2.52 seconds of attention, as compared with 1.85 seconds using a handheld device, Smith writes. He agrees with the NSC, which recommends turning the watch off or removing it from your wrist while driving.

In an article for, Larry Higgs writes that the Apple smartwatch is so new there is no legislation to regulate it yet. It raises the question of “whether and which” existing smartphone bans apply to smartwatches, Smith writes. In March of last year, this blog reported that Colorado State Representative Jovan Emerson Melton (D-Aurora) had proposed a bill to limit the use of cell phones while driving and prohibit drivers from using smartphone apps. But Melton postponed the bill (HB 14-1225) indefinitely, as his website states.

Zachariah Hosseini, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, has also voiced concern, as quoted by Higgs:

‘Using any device while driving, including the Apple Watch, can cause a driver to become distracted, which can lead to crashes and potential summonses from law enforcement for careless or reckless driving.’

Anthony Parenti, executive director of the New Jersey Traffic Officers Association, told Higgs he sees no difference between a smartwatch and a handheld device because both are distractions. “In the eyes of the law, there isn’t much difference,” Parenti said.

Pam Fischer, a safety consultant, told Higgs that the smartwatches promote distracted walking as much as they cause distracted driving. There are increasing numbers of pedestrians showing up in emergency rooms because of distracted walking, she said, as Higgs reports. The problem is not so much the type of technology, safety experts say, but the amount of distraction that multiple functions and alerts can cause, Higgs writes.

In an article in The Denver Post about Apple’s launch of the Smart Watch, Associated Press writes, “Apple encouraged customers to make appointments to try on different models, which ranged from $349 to $17,000.” Apple has not said how many watches were sold in the initial rollout, according to the article.


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