The distracted driving rules vary, depending on where you live. Some say you can’t even use your cell phone, while others are a bit more lax about what you can or can’t do. Recently, however, a woman in Canada was found guilty of distracted driving. Sure, you’re probably thinking that she was glancing down at her phone to check a message, but that’s not the case. Nor do I condone that kind of behavior, but it’s actually worse than that. Well, worse in the sense that maybe she wasn’t doing anything wrong. In fact, she was charged because she looked down at her Apple Watch. She claims she was just checking the time, but the police officer charged her anyway.
Is this fair? Well, I mean, there is likely a clock in her car, so she probably didn’t need to look down at her watch to check the time. I will admit, that I look at my watch when I’m driving because I will get messages. But isn’t that better than grabbing my phone and checking it? According to this police officer, the answer is no. According to the police officer, the offender was spending too much time looking at her smartwatch and not enough time watching the road. Therefore, she was given a $400 fine.
Of course, there are two sides to this story. According to the police officer, the woman checked her watch about four times while she was stopped at a red light. The officer also told the court the driver didn’t immediately take off once the light turned green and he had to shine a light into her vehicle to get her attention. He then pulled her over and gave her a ticket for violating the Highway Traffic Act. The HTA stipulates that drivers can’t hold or use a handheld wireless communication device while driving.
But is an Apple Watch a handheld communication device? One could argue that it isn’t. In fact, one could make the argument that it’s not a handheld device, but in fact, it’s a wearable. That said, the driver states that she was checking the time on her Apple Watch. If you don’t have one, this task requires that you tap the device once to activate it in order to see the watch face and then tap it again to deactivate the display. There is a setting that is called “wrist raise” that will automatically display the time when a person moves their wrist. I personally have this feature active on my watch because I don’t want to have to touch my watch at all. Like I have done, the driver made the argument that a smartwatch isn’t a handheld device and should count as a “mounted device” which is allowed under the law.
The judge, however, has indicated that the Apple Watch is no safer than a smartphone. In fact, he states that it’s “no less a source of distraction than a cellphone taped to someone’s wrist”. While I am all for safety and think that too many people drive distracted, I also think this is a bit of a stretch. The judge stated: “It is abundantly clear from the evidence that Ms. Ambrose was distracted when the officer made his observations.”
Again, I’m not condoning this behavior, but I do use my Apple Watch in a similar way. I will glance at it if someone has sent me a message, to identify who it is. If it’s my mom, for example, I will then use the handheld features of my car to call her and answer her question or talk to her. I don’t respond to her text messages unless I’m stopped. But even then, you’re not allowed to use your phone at a stop light, so I too could be seen as breaking this particular law.
I think that the laws will need to be written in a way that allows them to be future-proofed. Technology changes by the hour, and so our laws should adequately reflect the technology. In this case, the law needs to be black and white. Which means, they shouldn’t include definitions or describe the offending device as “handheld”. By doing that, they are limiting what can and can’t be charged. In this case, the judge sided with the police officer, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I can’t decide how I personally feel about this. Like I said, I do think that more people need to be safe on the roads, but at the same time, I want to be able to glance at my watch if I need to while I’m driving.