America’s largest technology company is set to release what will surely be the must-have accessory early next year, but is the Apple Watch legal to use behind the wheel?
Of course, you may instantly think that indeed, it’s just a watch and like every other watch, it should be allowed. But that may not be the case.
The rules regarding mobile phone and visual display units (such as tablets and laptops) clearly state that it is illegal for the driver to operate such devices while the vehicle is moving, but does that apply to a watch?
The rules regarding visual display units state that:
A driver must not drive a motor vehicle that has a television receiver or visual display unit in or on the vehicle operating while the vehicle is moving, or is stationary but not parked, if any part of the image on the screen is visible to the driver from the normal driving position, or is likely to distract another driver.
Though subject to interpretation, based on that we would confidently say the Apple Watch would actually be illegal to wear whilst driving, considering it notifies you of incoming calls, displays text messages, allows for Facebook and other social media access and notifications to be displayed on the screen (and hence visible to the driver).
For smartphones (when not paired to a Bluetooth system), the rules state that their usage is only allowed if it’s fixed to the car via a cradle and even then, it’s limited to GPS, Music and making and receiving phones calls. And if you need to touch the phone itself, it must be fixed to the vehicle and not be held by the driver.
Again, based on those rules the Apple Watch would be illegal. You can indeed make phone calls via the smart watch (paired with your iPhone), but clearly it’s not the sort of device that will be mounted to the vehicle?
In Queensland the rules state that:
A person must not use a mobile phone that the person is holding in the person’s hands while the person is using a personal mobility device. Use, in relation to a mobile phone, includes any of the following—
- holding the phone to, or near, the ear, whether or not
- engaged in a phone call;
- writing, sending or reading a text message on the phone;
- turning the phone on or off;
- operating any other function of the phone.
Of course, a watch is not a phone, but since it can now perform the functions of a phone, where does the law draw the distinction?
We have asked VicRoads, QLD Transport and the RTA in NSW as to whether or not the Apple Watch will be legal to use behind the wheel and all three have yet to get back to us, no doubt scrambling to come up with an answer that is not contradictory to the existing rules.
While we wait, do you think the Apple Watch should be illegal to use whilst driving?
10/09/14: *Update 1*
QLD Transport media unit told CarAdvice
"We’ll get back to you on this with something official later. [However] there is a general charge of ‘driving without due care and attention’ which I think police can use to fine motorists re anything that might be distracting a driver."
11/09/15: Update 2
QLD Transport gave us an official response this morning:
"The Queensland Road Rules which apply to using a mobile phone while driving do not apply to a ‘smart watch’. However, drivers could be charged with not having proper control of their vehicle and driving without due care and attention, should they drive erratically or become distracted due to the ‘smart watch.’"