Smart wearables may be all the rage nowadays and the next frontier for consumer technology, but with them, come the expected problems of compromised privacy and safety. Even now, after decades of mobile phones becoming mainstream, there continue to be reports of accidents and mishaps because of distractions from the devices. Texting while driving is banned in a lot of countries and not using hands-free devices like Bluetooth headsets etc. for speaking on the phone while driving is also a punishable offense in a lot of jurisdictions around the world out of valid concerns for public safety.
With passage of time, as wearables like smart-glasses and smartwatches become more ubiquitous, it would be interesting to see how law-enforcement classifies these devices with regards to already existing legislation in many jurisdictions that require phones be kept on mute or hands-free devices be used while taking calls. Since there is indeed a bigger risk associated with using smart watches over smartphones while driving a car or riding a bike, how should the legislators and custodians of public safety go about regulating those devices? Also, it’s not just the drivers and their passengers who’re at risk from such distractions. Reports aplenty about how pedestrians have walked into oncoming traffic or onto railway tracks at ill-opportune moments, resulting in catastrophic injuries and even fatalities, have done the rounds of the press for long.
With all that considered, Mr. Stephen Joseph, an American attorney, ostensibly concerned by the impending public safety nightmare that’s about to ensue, filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court against technology companies at the forefront of this smart-devices revolution, holding them responsible for allegedly not issuing proper warnings and guidelines. In the absence of any concrete legislative initiative from lawmakers, this lawsuit is seeking a court intervention to take a suo moto cognizance of the dangers of using smartwatches while driving and issue an order for Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung to fund a $1 billion public education campaign intended to spread awareness to the general population. The lawsuit says “The temptation to check the tiny screen immediately after receiving a notification is virtually irresistible” because of the vibrations, unlike ringing phones that you can ignore and allow messages to go straight to voicemail.
There has apparently also been research done on the effect smartwatches have on reaction times of people. British consulting firm Transport Research Laboratory, in a report published last month, said that checking a notification on a wrist-worn smartwatch delays reaction times while driving by about 2.5 seconds, which is over 30% higher, when compared to about 1.9 seconds on a smartphone. It remains to be seen what the court does about the lawsuit and how the tech-behemoths react to it.