Smart watches, in particular Apple’s Smart Watch might not be so smart behind the wheel.

However useful and clever they may be, they can be a distraction when driving according the experts.

With an obvious urge to check messages on the go, this could leave motorists at risk of serious penalties by simply gazing at their smart watch.

The warning comes from Scrap Car Comparison who also provide some useful tips for all drivers, old and new.

Long arm of the law

Depending on the circumstances, penalties could rise to a £1,000 fine and points being placed on a driver’s licence.

Simply illuminating the screen of a smart watch can be deemed as a legal infringement. 

There aren’t any specific laws within the Highway Code around the use of smart watches while driving. However, the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed ahead of the release of the first Apple Watch in 2015 that being caught using a smart watch whilst driving would carry the same penalty as using a mobile phone. 

The Highway Code doesn’t directly state that using a smartwatch is illegal. Yet anything that causes a driver to become distracted and results in them taking their eyes off the road is against the law. This includes anything from checking a notification on your watch, to declining an incoming call. 

Many people think the law only applies when driving. However, it also extends to other scenarios where you are in control of a vehicle. These include being stopped at traffic lights, queuing in stationary traffic and supervising a learner driver.

It means that it’s always worth putting your watch on ‘do not disturb’ before hitting the road. 

Paying the price

If you are caught using any device whilst driving, you could receive a minimum fine of £200 and six penalty points on your licence.

As twelve or more penalty points result in you losing your licence, just two instances could see you banned. 

If the offence is taken to court, the resulting fine could escalate to £1,000 and a driving disqualification. 

The risk is even greater for new drivers who have only held their licence for less than two years. For these drivers their licence could be immediately revoked.  

Time to look

Use of a smart watch or phones increases distraction and can lead to crashes and potentially higher penalties. 

In these cases, drivers can be convicted of a Dangerous Driving charge, leading to two years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine and disqualification. You can also be charged with Careless Driving landing you with an unlimited fine, a discretionary disqualification from driving and three to nine points on your licence. 

No excuses

It has been illegal to use a hand-held device while driving since 2003. However, there is some confusion over what is considered as ‘using the device’, especially with the introduction of devices such as the Apple Watch.

The old guidelines meant motorists were previously able to check the time on their device while driving, as an exception. However, in 2022 it became illegal to hold or engage with any device while driving. This includes:    

  • illuminating the screen 
  • checking the time 
  • checking notifications 
  • unlocking the device 
  • making, receiving, or rejecting a call 
  • sending, receiving or uploading oral or written content 
  • sending, receiving or uploading a photo or video 
  • utilising camera, video, or sound recording 
  • drafting any text 
  • accessing any stored data such as audio files, videos and playlists  
  • accessing an app 
  • accessing the internet 

This means that by illuminating the screen of your watch, even to check the time, can be deemed and offence.

Unlocking the device, or tapping the watch for anything – to use an app, check a message, or even decline a call – will be considered illegal.

Get smarter

Drivers understand the watch’s settings, and minimise the risk of distraction while you’re driving. 

Actively use ‘Do Not Disturb’ to pause notifications: Touch and hold the bottom of the watch face and enter the control centre. You can choose to set ‘Do Not Disturb’ for a specific amount of time, ideal for car journeys, or turn it off and on manually.

Remove apps you’ve installed but never used: Get rid of unecessary or unused apps to minimise potentially distracting notifications. You can do this by holding down the home button on the watch until the ‘view options’ prompt appears. After tapping ‘edit apps’ you can select the delete button on any app you no longer need. 

iPhone mirroring: Apple watches can connect to iPhones . This can also lead to distracting notifications. To minimise notifications coming in from your iPhone, open ‘Settings’, go to ‘Accessibility’ and tap ‘Apple Watch Mirroring’ to turn off. 

Turn off ‘Raise to Speak’ for Siri: With Siri conveniently at your wrist, the temptation to engage with your watch is all too easy. Consider turning off Siri. You can do this by opening the ‘Settings’ app, click Siri and turn off Raise to Speak. To turn off Siri completely, you can head to the same place and then turn off ‘Listen’ for “Hey Siri.” 

Pause ‘Wake on Wrist Raise’’ and Wake On Crown Rotation’: The easy motion of turning your wrist to illuminate your watch can be an offence. Consider turning off this function so you don’t trigger the screen whilst driving. Hold down the home button on your watch and open ‘Settings’. By heading to ‘Display & Brightness’ you can turn off both ‘Wake on Wrist Raise’ and ‘Wake On Crown Rotation’. 

Be aware

All drivers need to be aware of the potential legal issues and distraction associated with mobile technology. Young learners and novice drivers are particularly susceptible to offending. Providing new drivers with information and tips to avoid dangers behind is essential for everyones’ road safety. It will also protect them from losing their licence.

David Kottuan, Operations Manager at Scrap Car Comparison adds: “The best action is to avoid checking anything on your watch whilst in control of a vehicle”. 

“Consider turning off your internet on the device, or the device completely, whilst behind the wheel. If the action is urgent, only check your device after pulling over, when it is safe to do so, with the ignition firmly turned off.  

“It’s also always important to make sure you’re aware of the scenarios where it’s illegal to be caught using your smart watch,” continues Kottaun. “Even checking it whilst sitting in stationary traffic can land you in hot water. Removing temptation completely, until you have finished your journey, is the only surefire way of protecting yourself and other road users.”