As technology advances, it becomes more and more crucial in our everyday lives. Ranging from smartphones to smartwatches, people are constantly connected through technology. Although useful, these technology devices can pose a huge danger if used while driving. In Illinois, the distracted driving law is quite clear regarding the use of smartphones while driving; but the law regarding the use of smartwatches remains vague. Can someone be held liable for distracted driving by looking at their smartwatch?
Yes. Smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch, keep the user cognizant of any notifications or messages that come into their phones. Although many believe these smartwatches are safer to use while drive than a smartphone, in reality, smartwatches can cause significant and dangerous distractions. A smartwatch enables a person to (1) receive notifications of text messages or emails and allows you to read and respond to them; (2) send reminders or calendar notifications; (3) receive notifications of an incoming call and allow you to either answer it or decline it; (4) play music; and (5) give directions via GPS.
In Illinois, “A person may not operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an electronic communication device.” 625 ILCS 5/12(b). As defined by the statute, "Electronic communication device" means any electronic device, such as a smartphone or laptop, but does not include a GPS or navigation system that is integrated into the car’s system. 625 ILCS 5/12(a). This statute is not limited to the electronic communication devices specifically stated in the statute. More importantly, smartwatches are not specifically listed as a preclusion to this statute. As such, smartwatches may be characterized as an “electronic communication device” and subject to the statute.
Beginning on July 1, 2019, first-time offenders no longer get a break under the new Illinois distracted driving law that goes into effect July 1, 2019. All convictions will go on a driver’s record. Drivers convicted of three moving violations in a 12-month period will face license suspensions. 625 ILCS 5/12-610.2. Even more critical, however, using a smartwatch while driving may make you the responsible party for an accident, thus making you accountable for any liabilities incurred.
Although specific laws regarding the use of smartwatches while driving have not been enacted yet, it does not mean that the use of such devices are valid. In Canada, the National Post reports that a Canadian student was fined roughly $400 for looking at her Apple smartwatch while waiting at traffic lights. The student was stopped at a stoplight when a police officer pulled up beside her in his cruiser and noticed the glow of an electronic device. The officer testified he saw her looking up and down about four times. When the stoplight turned green, two cars in front of the student promptly moved forward but the student remained stationary until the cop shone a light into her car and she began to drive. The officer pulled the student over and cited her for distracted driving.
This specific instance is just one example that exemplifies the dangers of using a smartwatch while driving. Although no cases have been cited in the United States, smartwatches can prove a legitimate risk to drivers. As the Judge noted in the Canadian case, an Apple Watch is no safer “than a cellphone taped to someone’s wrist.”
The use of technology is inevitable. However, the use of such devices must be limited while driving. If you have recently been in an auto accident and have been injured, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at Sherwood Law Group at 312-627-1650 for a free consultation and case review.