The new Apple Watch was unveiled Tuesday. Police see it as a potential new source of driver distraction.

Rise of wearable tech raises distracted driving fears

B.C. could widen distracted driving law if it fails to capture Apple Watch, Google Glass

The rollout of the new Apple Watch has police and provincial officials monitoring whether B.C.’s distracted driving law is broad enough to bust drivers who use new wearable technology.

“We haven’t seen anyone using Google Glass or other wearable electronics yet, but I think it will only be a matter time before we start seeing it more frequently, especially as new products enter the market,” Delta Police Acting Sgt. Sarah Swallow said.

“It will be something we need to monitor,” she said. “These things are only going to get more and more popular.”

Apple’s smart watch was unveiled Tuesday along with new iPhones and the device will allow users to read and send texts, among many other functions.

Swallow is concerned the use of smart watches may not be covered under  the sections of B.C.’s distracted driving law that ban the use of handheld electronics.

“Something like a watch that is designed to be used on your wrist or Google Glass – they’re not designed as handheld electronic devices.”

There’s also a section of the law that bans drivers from using any electronic device, not just handheld ones, to send or receive email or texts, but that covers just two of the functions of the new gadgets.

Police can also use the Motor Vehicle Act section against driving without due care and attention but, unlike the distracted driving law, officers must see evidence of risky driving to issue the $368 fine and six penalty points.

Police have long had that ability to fine drivers who swerve while they adjust stereos, juggle a hot cup of coffee or scold children in the backseat, but the $167 distracted driving fines have been used much more frequently since their 2010 introduction.

Sam MacLeod, B.C.’s Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, said his office believes the current distracted driving law is broad enough to capture Google Glass or smart watches, but added the definition of prohibited devices could be expanded if needed.

“We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of our legislation against these new technologies and will make changes if needed,” MacLeod said. “We are obviously concerned about the development of any technology that could distract drivers from focusing on the road and the task of driving.”

ICBC last month blamed crashes caused by distracted drivers as one factor for a proposed 5.2 per cent increase in basic insurance rates.

On average, 30 people a year are killed in distracted driving crashes in the Lower Mainland, and 88 province-wide.

It’s the second leading cause of car fatalities after speed and now is narrowly ahead of impaired driving.

“It’s still unfortunately all around us,” Swallow said. “It’s like impaired driving was 20 years ago. It’s going to take a major mindset shift for people to put the phone down and realize this is a killer.”

Police have stepped up enforcement this month as part of a new campaign against distracted driving.