Driving with smartwatches


2014 seems to be shaping up to be the year of the wearable, and more accurately, the year of the smartwatch. Already this year we have seen an impressive array of smartwatches debut, and as Frank Sinatra once said, “The best is yet to come.” He also said Chicago is “[his] kind of town,” so the man was obviously a genius. Anyway, back to smartwatches. The Moto360 and the iWatch/iTime have yet to see the light of day and yet, they are probably the two most anticipated wearables yet.

There has been some discussion that wearables and smartwatches in particular will not take off. They will not be the next big thing. Rather they will be a passing fad, no more than a blip on the mobile radar when all is said and done. What you believe, however is irrelevant to this weekend’s discussion. For the purposes of this debate, we are going to assume that smartwatches are here and they are here to stay. What will their impact on society be? Particularly today, we are going to look at one specific aspect of society and that is driving.

Distracted driving.PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METROIt can wait

Driving and mobile technology have a very love/hate relationship today. Texting and driving is a real problem and the cause of too many senseless tragedies around the world. Whether or not a vocal phone conversation can distract you from looking at your surroundings while piloting a 2,000 pound box of death at 65 miles per hour down the highway is up for some debate. But when it comes to texting, taking your eyes off the road for even a split second – or however long it takes you to type “LOL IKR?” – is at best idiotic and at worst suicidal.

Now we are going to be wearing notification screens on our wrists. You know where your wrists end up while you’re driving? That’s right, right in front of your face, begging you to look down for just an instant because it has buzzed and demands attention. So, let’s assume that you have a smartwatch, and you are about to go commute for an hour to your job. How safe are you?

In your face!

On the one hand (see what I did there?) your smartwatch is going to be there, the entire drive. Your smartphone can be slipped into your pocket and summarily ignored – out of sight, out of mind. But a smartwatch is going to be a persistent reminder that you have stuff to do, and it wants to help. Or it’s going to remind you that your reports are due as soon as you walk in the door. Or it’s going to warn you of a traffic accident between you and your job. Or it’s going to…you get the idea. It’s going to do everything your smartphone already does, but it’s going to do it in your face, right in your line of sight while your hands are at ten and two on the wheel.

It’s also going to give you a false sense of security. After all, it’s just a watch right? People glance at their watches all the time while driving, so what’s the harm? Psychologically, we may think that a simple glance is harmless and instant, but it’s not. It’s time with your eyes away from the road when they should very much be otherwise occupied. We’re not even factoring in the learning curve as you stare at a notification icon trying to decipher its meaning as you plunge into a group of school children and a crossing guard screaming and waving her hand held stop sign. Graphic right?

Pebble-drivingAnd yet…

But then let’s consider once again where this watch is going to be. Human physiology has given us this really cool gift called “peripheral vision” which means we don’t have blinders on when we’re looking at things. The watch is going to be right out in front of your face while you’re driving, and you know what’s directly behind that? The road. So, it’s not like you won’t be able to see the road at all. It just won’t be your primary focus. Maybe that’s good enough. Maybe peripheral vision will detect little Billy and Suzie in time for you to stop the car before causing them to have a really bad day.

Your smartwatch will also be able to help you communicate and connect hands free more efficiently. Tapping the watch face and asking Google Now to text for you is definitely safer than trying to figure out how to spell “hypothetically” on a Swype keyboard at 65 mph. Let’s also consider that the notifications on a smartwatch don’t have to be dealt with at all, no more than notifications on your phone need to be. So maybe this is a complete non-issue.

Sound off

So what do you think? Will a smartwatch enhance our roadways, or make them even more of a death trap than they already are? If you were standing at a cab stand and you notice your driver has a smartwatch on, are you getting in his/her car? Sound off below with your thoughts and let’s see if we can figure this out.

Leader image: themotorreport.com.au

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!