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Call for ban on driving with Apple Watch

2015-03-11 12:18

SMART WATCHES ROAD THREAT: A UK road-safety company wants the use of smart watches - including the new Apple Watch - banned from the driving seat. Image: Shutterstock

LONDON, England - Forget your cellphone, already! A call has already gone out for vehicle drivers to be banned from wearing one of the new Apple Watches.

Or face "a significant rise in road fatalities".

What some might regard as "a spoilsport demand" has come from UK vehicle safety firm SmartWitness. “Ban it, now!” is the essence of what the company wants. It and all smart watches.

SmartWitness makes in-vehicle CCTV and safety cameras and is concerned that a smart watch will significantly distract drivers.

NO LEGAL BAN IN PLACE

“Recent research” the company says, “has shown that using a smart watch while driving makes response times nearly three times longer – and is even worse than using a hand-held cellphone.” 

The fact is that the UK’s Department for Transport has no ban in place to cover wearable tech - and we doubt current cellphone laws in South Africa would apply either.

The use of a mobile phone while driving was banned in 2003 but there is currently no such legislation against smart watches such as the Apple Watch - at least according to the UK report.


Read what News24's DUNCAN ALFREDS found out about 'wearable tech'


The Apple Watch was unveiled this week - a wearable piece of technology that enables the wearer to send and receive emails and texts and connect to an iPhone. The launch has created a huge demand for smart watches which are now likely to become much more common worldwide – including in South Africa.

Such watches can, however, interact with a car's audio/computer in much the same way as a cellphone.

EFFECT ON SA DRIVERS

What the law says about use of communication devices while driving: Regulation 308A: Prohibition on use of communication device while driving:
 
(1) No person shall drive a vehicle on a public road
(a) while holding a cellular or mobile telephone or any other communication device in one or both hands or with any other part of the body;
(b) while using or operating a cellular or mobile telephone or other communication device unless such a cellular or mobile telephone or other communication device is affixed to the vehicle or is part of the fixture in the vehicle and remains so affixed while being used or operated, or is specially adapted or designed to be affixed to the person of the driver as headgear, and is so used, to enable such driver to use or operate such telephone or communication device without holding it in the manner contemplated in paragraph (a), and remains so affixed while being used or operated.

DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION

We asked safety specialist Johan Jonck, editor of Arrive Alive, for comment. His reply:
1 The smartphone is a “communication” device if used for sms. Whatsapp, Facebook message etc.
2 Holding it on your arm will be “holding” it as required for it to be an offence

"Arrive Alive would like to emphasise the importance of avoiding any driver distractions – both inside and outside the car – both physical and emotional distractions. A distraction will be those actions that keep your eyes off the road and traffic, your hands from the steering-wheel and your focus from driving!

"We have too many reckless drivers on our roads to keep our attention away from driving defensively – we will plead with road users not to “use” any of these devices while driving – whether it is to communicate or whether it is to do anything else such as browsing the internet etc."

NOTE: There is also an increased risk of crashes involving pedestrians who are "walking distracted" – and many of these from cellular phones …

Lawyer Alta Swanepoel, of Alta Swanepoel & Associates, said: "I agree. There is no difference between a smart watch phone and any other cell phone. You are not allowed to drive while using a cell phone unless you have a hands-free kit. It may be more difficult for a traffic officer to detect a person using it."

LONGER REACTION TIMES

SmartWitness wants the “problem’ dealt with immediately – seems nobody had thought about this despite the existence of such watches having been known for some time.

Recent research by the Transport Research Laboratory in England, SmartWitness says, has shown that a driver reading a message on an Apple Watch would take 2.52sec to react to an emergency whereas a driver talking to another passenger would react in 0.9sec.

Reading an iWatch was even found to be more distracting than using a handheld cell (1.85sec delay).

SmartWitness’ Mark Berry added: “At 80km/h, reading a message on an Apple Watch would add 11 metres to the average stopping distance for a car. This could be the difference between life and death - especially if a pedestrian or cyclist were involved.

“Such watches need a ‘driver mode’ in the same way there’s a 'flight mode' button which switches off messaging and calls when airborne and we need legislation to enforce it.”

He forecast a significant increase in serious road accidents and fatalities caused by smart watches.

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