06 Jun

In a recent court case in Canada, an Apple smartwatch was classified as being the same kind of distraction as a mobile phone as a student was handed a fine for being observed looking at her Apple watch while waiting at traffic lights.

Distraction Law in Ontario

Student Victoria Ambrose is reported to have fallen foul of Ontario’s strict ‘distracted driving’ law.

In Ontario, the law states that using a phone to talk, text, check maps or choose a playlist while you’re behind the wheel all count as distracted driving, as do other activities like eating, reading or typing a destination into a GPS.

In the case of Victoria Ambrose, the judge likened the Apple smartwatch to being as much of a distraction as a “cell phone taped to someone’s wrist”.

Defence

In her defence, the student said that she had looked at the watch to tell the time, and that, because the watch was securely fastened to her wrist, it should be subject to an exemption in the Ontario law which covers devices that are “securely mounted”.
The Judge rejected both arguments, and said that the amount of time she was observed looking at the watch meant that she was distracted while driving, rather than simply glancing at her watch to find out the time.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Transport data, deaths from collisions there, caused by distracted driving have doubled since 2000, and 2013 data shows that one person is injured in a distracted-driving collision every half hour, and a driver using a phone is four times more likely to crash than a driver focusing on the road

Fine

In this case, the student was fined Canadian $400 (£230).

Warning In The UK

Back in 2014, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) issued a warning about looking at smartwatches while driving, saying that smartwatches are covered by existing laws designed to stop people checking gadgets while on the move, and that drivers caught texting from a smartwatch will have given police enough material to be able to charge them.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates that while technology can be helpful, it can also be potentially dangerous and / or costly distraction.

In the workplace, for example, studies show that smartphone-users touch their device somewhere between twice a minute to once every seven minutes, and that conducting tasks while receiving e-mails and phone calls can reduce a worker’s IQ by approximately ten points relative to working in uninterrupted quiet.

In an age where 85% of UK citizens use smartphones (Deloitte figures, Oct 2017), there are arguments as to whether they, and other gadgets e.g. with BOYD policies, are helping or hindering productivity.

For companies with employees who drive as part of their work, this story should illustrate the need to warn employees of the current law and safety recommendations regarding distraction, and if possible, to ensure that they have appropriate hands-free equipment to use while handling work calls.