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Smartwatches present a new distraction behind the wheel

If you have the Apple Watch that was introduced last year or one of the other smartwatches on the market, you know that, like any technological gadget, they can be addictive. A smartwatch works in tandem with another mobile device like a smart phone to provide notifications of texts, phone calls, social media updates and more right there on your wrist.

Laws throughout the country are still catching up to the hazards of driving while texting and talking on a hand-held phone. (Both of those things are illegal in Illinois.) Now comes a device that, while not hand-held, provides a lot of tempting information that you have to take your eyes off the road to see. So far, no laws specifically address the wearing of smartwatches while driving, and none appear to be in the pipeline.

Like other hands-free technology, it's still a potentially dangerous distraction. Many people feel a false sense of safety when using hands-free devices while behind the wheel. However, as the head of the National Safety Council points out, "The problem is the cognitive distraction of the brain that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving -- not what you do with your hands."

Even if and when laws against smartwatches behind the wheel are enacted, police officers are going to have a more challenging time catching offenders than if they're holding a cell phone. Unless they're close enough to see it, it's just going to look like someone's checking their watch.

When auto accidents occur, police officers can determine whether an at-fault driver was on a phone call, sending a text or engaging in some other type of distracting behavior. Now it's worth checking to see if the driver was wearing a smartwatch (assuming that he or she didn't dump it after the crash). If a person was looking at a smartwatch when the accident occurred, that may factor into a civil lawsuit.

Source: Consumer Reports, "Is driving with an Apple Watch safe? Is it legal?," accessed Feb. 19, 2016

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