Apple iWatch presents significant driver distraction threat

The Institute of Advanced Motorists is warning of the increased distraction potential associated with new phase of wearable technology such as the iWatch.

The introduction of the latest in wearable technology, the Apple iWatch, takes the potential for distracted driving to new levels, according to the UK’s Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). The well established and documented risk of using mobile phones when driving has been the subject of information and enforcement campaigns and there has been a flurry of technological advancements both in terms of hardware and apps that have been designed to reduce the risk of distraction from handheld devices.

However, a wrist-worn device presents additional problems, both in terms of ease of distraction and of enforcement. Designed to keep the wearer in touch electronically as well as performing additional functions such as health monitoring, the iWatch provides the user with alerts, the response to which is intuitively a turn of the wrist and a glance at the watch face resulting in a hand off the wheel and eyes off the road.

Simulation studies performed by the IAM from 2006 to 2010 showed that distraction from the use of a mobile phone contributed to nearly 2000 accidents during that period and the organization believes that this figure would be higher if the cause of the distraction is worn on the wrist.

In response to the IAM’s concerns, the Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed that that use of an iWatch behind the wheel is the same as using a hand-held mobile phone and would carry the same penalty of three points on the licence and a £100 pound fine, a penalty that could rise to a custodial sentence if it’s shown that the use of the iWatch was a factor in causing death by dangerous driving.

Commenting on the dangers presented by the new iWatch, the IAM’s Director of Policy and Research, Neil Greig stated that the device has the potential to distract more than other devices because you have to use your hand and eye to interact with it. He also warned that although enforcement will prove to be a difficult task for the police, they nonetheless have the power to seize devices and have them forensically inspected to find out their role in a serious collision.

“The very device that distracted you also has the power to convict you”, warned Neil Greig.

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