Do Smartwatches Pose a Major Distraction to Drivers?

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A recent report from International Data Corporation (IDC) indicated that one in six Americans owns a smartwatch that they use at least once a month. IDC also estimates that by 2022, approximately 73.4 million people in the United States will be using wearable technologies, with more than 70 percent of these wearables being smartwatches. Although convenient, smartwatches pose yet another potential distraction to drivers, increasing the risk of a car accident.

What is a Smartwatch?

A smartwatch provides the time, but it is also a mini-computing device. Smartwatches feature many of the same basic functions of a cellphone and use Bluetooth technology to sync with other devices.

Most smartwatches can perform the following functions:

  • Make and answer phone calls
  • Compose, accept, and send text messages
  • Compose, receive, and send emails
  • Instruct a digital assistant, such as Siri
  • Access music
  • Get a weather report
  • Dictate a note or message
  • Provide driving and walking directions
  • Notify the wearer of activity, such as new emails or missed calls, through pulses, throbbing, and other sensations

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic resulted in a rise in smartwatch usage, according to many reports. As people were homebound, they began to focus more on their fitness and exercise, fueling the health aspects of smartwatches to:

  • Count daily steps
  • Keep track of calories
  • Track heart rate
  • Record exercise activity and related metrics, such as calories burned
  • Document amount and quality of sleep

Like other technologies, there are many benefits but inevitable downfalls. Unfortunately, one disadvantage of a smartwatch is that it can lead to distracted driving, an already significant problem in the United States.

Smartwatches are a Bigger Distraction than Cellphones

The United States is already grappling with a significant increase of traffic deaths and injuries because of distracted driving, many owing to cellphone use. It looks like smartwatches may also be competing for a driver’s attention.

A recent Canadian study compared the effects of smartwatch and cellphone functions on driver reaction and concentration. They used various scenarios, including smartwatch and cellphone texting, voice messaging, alerts, and notifications, to measure driver reaction time and attention.

Smartwatches were found more distracting to drivers than cellphones. Drivers’ gazes were less focused when they received written alerts on their smartwatches versus their cellphones. For both smartwatches and cellphones, voice messaging appeared to be the safest way for drivers to get messages.

A study in the United Kingdom showed similar negative results for smartwatch use while driving. The study showed that it takes two-thirds of a second longer for someone to react to a smartwatch event than a cellphone event.

In actual numbers, the study showed that a smartwatch user needs 2.52 seconds to react to an event as opposed to 1.85 seconds for a cellphone user to react to the same event, such as a text, call, or email notification.

Because drivers often need to make split-second decisions and accidents can happen with just one second of inattention, neither smartwatch nor cellphone use while driving is safe.

Currently, the following U.S. laws regarding cellphone use while driving apply:

  • Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia prohibit all drivers from using cellphones while driving.
  • Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia ban all cellphone use by novice or teen drivers.
  • Eighteen states and the District of Columbia prohibit cellphone use for school bus drivers.
  • Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia prohibit text messaging for all drivers.

In Maryland, drivers cannot use a hand-held cellphone while driving, including writing, sending, and reading a text or electronic message. It would not be surprising to see new legislation banning smartwatches while driving as these devices grow in popularity.

Why Do Smartwatches Pose a Major Distraction to Drivers?

Smartwatches, like cellphones, take a driver’s attention from the road, their hands from the wheel, and their minds from a focus on driving. They cause these issues:

  • Require frequent glances up and down to interact with the device.
  • Force a driver to look down at their wrist or bring their wrist up to eye level to see activity.
  • May require a driver to continually adjust their sleeves to see the watch.
  • Have small screens with small print that may necessitate close visual scrutiny.
  • Have small screens that also require constant scrolling to get through a message or notification.
  • Often use distracting sensations such as pulsing for notifications.
  • May be synced with cellphones, creating confusion between the devices. A driver looking at both a cellphone and a smartwatch can equal disaster.
  • Require hands for pushing buttons, clearing messages, or performing other functions on the watch.

Like cellphones, smartwatches create distraction and lead to driving accidents, injuries, and deaths.

What Types of Accidents can a Smartwatch Cause?

Anything that leads to driver distraction could result in a horrible accident and catastrophic personal injury. Anything can happen in a split second when attention is diverted from the road, including the following:

  • Weaving into another lane/vehicle. No one can look down and still keep control of their vehicle. Sideswipe and similar collisions are common when a car swerves into another lane.
  • Head-on collisions. When a driver looks down, takes their hand off the wheel, or takes their mind off driving, they can easily hit another driver head-on. Head-on collisions are among the worst in terms of serious injury or death.
  • Swerving off the road. Going off-road is a possibility when a person is not focused on driving. When that happens, drivers may hit a pedestrian, bicyclist, or a stationary object such as a guard rail, concrete barrier, tree, or nearby building. A vehicle will often roll over, cartwheel, or continue out of control after leaving the road.
  • Rear-end collisions. Drivers who are not focused on the road ahead may not be able to slow or stop in time to avoid hitting a vehicle in front of them. These types of collisions can seriously injure a driver and front seat passenger.
  • Other accidents: Interacting with a smartwatch can also be hazardous while parking or in a parking lot, backing out, or at an intersection where traffic may already be difficult to see or judge.

What are Other Distracted Driving Activities?

In the United States, over 3,000 people are killed each year in accidents caused by distracted driving, while more than 400,000 are injured. In addition, studies show that up to 90 percent of accidents are attributed to human error, making many accidents preventable.

Any action that takes the driver’s attention away from the road is considered distracted driving, including the following behaviors:

  • Cellphone usage: talking, texting, reading, looking at directions, taking photos, or engaging in social media
  • Smartwatch usage
  • Talking with passengers
  • Loud or rowdy passengers
  • Eating and drinking
  • Programming/using a navigation system
  • Using an infotainment system
  • Children’s movies or games; crying or whining children
  • Loud music
  • Roadside signs or attractions

What Should I Do if Hit by a Distracted Driver?

Getting medical help is the most important thing to do after an accident, along with as many of the following as possible:

  • Call 911.
  • Get out of the way of unsafe traffic if able.
  • Do not admit guilt or responsibility for the accident.
  • Cooperate with the police and ensure there is an accurate police report.
  • Take photos and videos of the accident scene, damage to vehicles, strewn parts, vehicle locations, injuries, weather, and road conditions.
  • Talk with bystanders and other witnesses. Get their statements and contact information.
  • Accept medical help on the scene and follow up with a family doctor. Visit urgent care or an emergency room if new problems arise. Injuries may not always show up quickly.
  • Call an experienced car accident lawyer.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Fight for Justice for Distracted Driving Victims

When another driver’s distraction and negligence negatively impact you or a loved one, contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We have the experience and passion for getting victims of distracted driving the compensation they deserve for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. We will not stop fighting for you until we have your complete satisfaction. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.