With the release of the Apple Watch just a couple of months ago, many are beginning to wonder how these wearable mobile devices will affect driving and driving safety in the United States.
A new study released by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and reported in Digital Trends indicates that smartwatches could be even worse than their mobile phone counterparts. The study made use of a variety of approaches. In one test, the TRL compared how long it takes on average to read a text on a phone versus on a mobile phone. For smartwatches, the average reading time was 2.52 seconds, while for mobile phones, it was less at 1.85 seconds. And for a driver talking to someone else in the car, that number was 0.9 seconds.
Interestingly enough, the use of smartwatches while driving is banned in most countries, with some bans such as the UK ban dating back to 2003. Yet in the United States, bans still do not exist for many states. Some laws do exist that cover “distracting electronics” more generally, but a great many laws could benefit from getting some new clarifications. Are smartwatches hands-free? Are they not? Does it matter? Digital Trends reports that while many states are yet to have laws that govern smartphone use while driving, many states are currently considering such legislation. Perhaps more danger-confirming research such as that carried out by the TRL will work to speed up the passing of this legislation.
One factor to consider when it comes to smartwatch-bearing drivers and safety is the newness of smartphone technology. It has taken years for legislation and awareness to develop around the hazards of using mobile phones in the car, despite how seemingly obvious it is that mobile phones do not make for safe driving. Perhaps it will take a few years for this same mindset to develop around smartwatches as well, despite their readily apparent dangers and distractive natures. As Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, points out, “Technology is moving at a much faster clip than our laws can keep up with.”
The largely hands-free capabilities of smartwatches quite possibly make them seem more manageable for use during driving than they truly are. Will Americans quickly adapt to the culture of smartwatches and develop habits that inhibit them from being the distracting devices that they are while driving? Only time will tell.