Transportation safety agencies have long said that using a handheld device such as a smartphone is a dangerous distraction to drivers. You pay less attention to the road, and reaction times are greatly slowed. But what about the continually growing presence of wearables like smartwatches? Surely they must be much less distracting than a phone, and with their heavy reliance on voice controls, they should be about as distracting as standard timepieces, right? Well, the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) says just the opposite.
The organization has conducted several tests and come to the conclusion that smartwatches, including the new Apple Watch, are more distracting to drivers than smartphones. The TRL says that a driver reading a text message on an Apple Watch would take 2.52 seconds to react in an emergency, in comparison to 1.85 seconds for a driver using a handheld smartphone and 0.9 seconds for a driver talking to someone else in the car.
Now, it’s worth noting that the TRL says this was not a full-scale study, and their tests were carried out with an unspecified smartwatch. While their report makes specific mention of the Apple Watch in its examples, this is probably in order to gain attention, what with Apple’s wearable being the hot topic of discussion after its unveiling earlier this week. But there is no reason the Apple Watch would be any more or less distracting than a comparable smartwatch.
While the report may somewhat unfairly focus on naming one brand of device, it does rightfully bring attention to the safety issue when behind the wheel. The UK made it illegal to use a phone while driving in 2003, and many other countries have similar laws, however there are still a number of car accidents every year caused by drivers distracted by their devices.
The Apple Watch will not be squarely responsible for distracting drivers any more than a an Android Wear device, for example, but with the Watch’s forthcoming release, it’s sure to contribute to the overall popularity of wearables among the general population. With that will come the need to focus on safety precautions and how to prevent distractions while behind the wheel.