We know that using a smartphone while driving is a dangerous (and usually illegal) distraction — but the bad news is that smartwatches might be even worse. Those are the findings of the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) after a variety of different simulated tests.
The TRL found that a driver reading a text on a smartwatch takes an average of 2.52 seconds to react to an unexpected event. That compares with 1.85 seconds for a driver using a smartphone and 0.9 seconds for a driver talking to someone else in the car.
Using a smartphone while driving is banned across most of the world (the U.K. ban dates from 2003) though as yet it’s only outlawed in some U.S. states. If the TRL’s findings are backed up by further studies, then it looks like new legislation is going to be needed for our wrist-based computers.
There are existing laws that could be interpreted to cover smartwatch use, such as driving without proper care and attention — in the U.K., smartwatches fall under the heading of “distracting electronics.” Back in December, meanwhile, a Moto 360 user in Illinois was pulled over for controlling music on his paired smartphone. Does a watch count as a hands-free device or not?
It wouldn’t be the first time that the law has struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of technology change, though a number of U.S. states are now considering legislation to cover the use of smartwatches. For now the safest course of action is to ignore the pings and buzzes of your wearable until you’ve reached your destination or have chance to pull over.