UAE road experts warn against using smart watch while driving

Experts suggest penalties should be the same as for using a smartphone while driving.

Robert Hodges, of the Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai, believes using the smart watch while driving should carry the same penalty as using a hand-held mobile as it requires two hands to use. Eric Risberg / AP Photo
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ABU DHABI // Using a smart watch while driving should carry at least the same penalty as using a hand-held mobile phone, experts said.

“Perhaps the Roads and Transport Authority and the police should now take the opportunity to increase the black points given for this offence,” said Robert Hodges, chief operating officer of Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai.

His remarks follow the launch of the Apple Watch, which requires two hands to operate.

The penalty for using a handheld phone while driving is Dh200 and four black points on the driver's licence.

“A driver using a smartphone while driving will be just as dangerous as a person who is three-and-a-half times over a typical European drink-driving limit, and 22 to 26 times more likely to have an accident than a law-abiding motorist,” Mr Hodges said.

Salaheddine Bendak, a road safety specialist and associate professor of industrial engineering at the University of Sharjah, agreed.

“The current penalty for using a mobile phone while driving is disproportionate with the risk anyway,” he said. “So the penalty for using a smart watch while driving should be much higher in order to reflect the risk involved to the user and to the public.”

According to the UK motoring organisation Institute of Advanced Motorists, using the Apple Watch while driving will "impact speed, lane position and time spent looking at the road".

“A smart watch has the potential to be just as distracting as any other smartphone device,” Mr Hodges said. “Indeed, more so if you have to take your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road to interact with it.”

Some of the latest pieces of wearable technology from manufacturers allow users to make and receive calls, check their messages and monitor their health by operating the devices on their wrists.

Glenn Havinoviski, a transport expert in Abu Dhabi, said: “If the watch allows you to make or answer calls without taking your hands off the wheel, which is similar to auto bluetooth devices, which are voice activated, then there is less of an issue.

“However, they can still result in momentary diversion of a driver’s attention so drivers need to understand that.”

Enforcement will be difficult for the police but powers exist to interrogate the driver and seize the devices in the event of a serious crash, Mr Hodges said.

Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police were not immediately available for comment.