How opaque is the law when it comes to driving when using a smart watch as opposed to a phone?
So, it’s coming soon – the Apple Watch. It looks fantastic. I know there are detractors but as piece of engineering it is right up there with the very best of imagination capturing futuristics isn’t it?
One question – what can you do with it when you’re driving? Anything? Quick answer – no, probably not.
In fact, you might even go so far as to say that looking at it to even check the time, which might be otherwise fine on a standard watch, is likely to end you up in hot water. But why – is the law clear? Err…no. No it isn’t.
Way back in 2003 it became illegal for anyone to “drive a motor vehicle on a road” if he is “using a hand-held mobile telephone”.
So, you’re driving, that’s simple – motion and direction controlled by using the steering wheel (don’t even think about arguing that the engine isn’t running or you are in a traffic jam!) – you’re on a road, it’s a public road even it’s part of Tesco or not and you’re using a hand-held mobile phone. Easy.
Now same situation, but it’s not a phone. They thought of that too- it’s illegal to use a hand-held device of a kind specified which includes (other than a two way radio) a device which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data.
All covered but is the Apple Watch hand-held? The definition carries on later as saying it is only hand-held “if it is, or must be, held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function. (Interactive communication includes oral, written messages, images an access to the internet – most of what an Apple Watch does really!). So no offence here! Hurrah! Wait for it….
Driving whilst using a mobile phone isn’t the only offence available. You see the police, when it comes to charging, with the help of the CPS look at the case, they will then look at their guidelines and what they might consider is dangerous driving or careless driving.
If you are avoidably and dangerously distracted by the use of equipment, whether it’s a phone or not, to compose or read text messages – it can be charged (and probably will be if you are texting) as dangerous driving. Difficult to prove if nothing has happened – i.e. no big crash or giant swerve in front of a police car perhaps – but then they still have careless driving.
The charging guidelines say that if you were avoidably distracted, then it might be charged as careless driving, then - although if it was a phone it would be charged under the offence above - it needn’t be and even tuning a radio, if you were avoidably distracted, can be charged under careless driving. Gulp.
So here it is, the police stop you. You say it was just an Apple Watch, they say tough, saw you looking at it. What can they charge you with? The only option open to them at the moment careless driving (or dangerous). Whether you are guilty or not is of course a matter of evidence but I imagine it would be a lot easier to convince a magistrate that you were just checking the time – if was just a regular watch. Even if a quick look of the clock face was all you were doing, “I wasn’t looking to read the message that just popped up and caused my wrist to vibrate”, isn’t going to get you very far.
Anyway, before the government invariably amends section 110 to include watches so that it becomes a fixed penalty offence like phones, it might be best to save yourself the extra insurance premium increase, the CRB check disclosure with any new job that can both result from the ‘non-fixed-penalty’ driving offence of carless driving, by safely packing your Apple Watch in your bag.
OR....you can buy a Google driverless car! Simple.