In the New York Times, Paul Krugman reminds us that the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" dismissed Earth as a place where life-forms "are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” That was 1979; 36 years later, we evidently still think it's a neat idea. Apple has sold 2.5 million of its new smart watches, but they're really not that smart — they are more like a remote control for your smartphone, repeating messages and texts.
So what happens when you wear it while driving? Many jurisdictions ban the use of cellphones in the car, but will those laws expand to cover smart watches? Legislation differs, but where I live, it's against the law to
operate hand-held communication and electronic entertainment devices while you're driving
view display screens unrelated to your driving
A driver reading a message on a smart watch would take 2.52 seconds to react to an emergency maneuver, whereas a driver talking to another passenger would react in 0.9 seconds. It was even found to be more distracting than using a handheld mobile (1.85 second delay).
In California, a clever lawyer is suing Apple, Samsung and and other smartphone manufacturers for a cool billion dollars a year to fund a public education campaign. According to his website,
The sole purpose of the lawsuit is to require the defendants to fund a public education campaign about the use of smartphones and smartwatches while driving, particularly smartwatches. We are asking the court to require the defendants to spend at least $1 billion annually on the campaign, which is an average of $20 million per state. The campaign would be conducted by one or more independent third parties.... It is critically important to start a public education campaign as soon as possible, because millions of Apple Watches will soon be strapped to drivers' wrists and the consequences for many people will be fatal.
The fact is, distracted driving is a huge problem, killing 3,154 people in 2013 and injuring 424,000. According to Distraction.Gov, "At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving." How much greater will the distraction be when it's right there on your wrist? Steven Joseph is probably correct when he writes that "the temptation to check the tiny screen immediately after receiving a notification is virtually irresistible."
Even if it was illegal to use a smart watch in the car, how would it be enforced? The police wouldn't be able to tell. Text responses on the Apple Smartwatch can be done with Siri so they are hands-free, but is that good enough? MNN has noted that people are overconfident in how well they can do two things at once. Perhaps smart watch owners should just take it off and stick it in the glove box before they turn the key.
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