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From the gov.uk website:

It’s illegal to hold and use a phone, sat nav, tablet, or any device that can send or receive data, while driving or riding a motorcycle.

A smartwatch can send or receive data. It is on the driver's wrist. Is it legal?

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    It would be illegal to hold and use a smartwatch in your hand. You don't hold a smartwatch on your wrist.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 18 at 13:04

2 Answers 2

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It says hold and use. Having a smartphone in your backpack is fine. Having a smartwatch on your wrist is fine. Using the smart watch for a phone call or a game or whatever while driving is not.

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    Then checking the time is illegal too. Nov 18 at 13:29
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    @Why would you need to? Don't all cars have a clock somewhere on the dashboard? Nov 18 at 16:17
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    But you don't hold a smartwatch at all. You wear a smartwatch.
    – MJ713
    Nov 19 at 1:20
  • @0___________ It is, depending on how charitable you think the police and judge would be. By law, it's illegal. By common sense, it's not. FWIW I do not think the UK law enforcement are unbiased.
    – J Atkin
    Nov 20 at 3:15
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    @ChrisH, (warning: off-topic) yes car clocks are terrible. My car receives at least three data streams with time information (RDS, DAB and GPS), yet leaves the clock drifting, and doesn't correct it for the daylight-saving transition. Very disappointing. Nov 20 at 12:00
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I'm having trouble finding one page with the most up to date version of "Road Vehicles Regulations" with all amendments included, but the important amendment for this question is from 2003. Revisions to sections 4 and 6 were made in 2022, I've included the updated language in brackets.

“Mobile telephones 110.—(1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a road if he is using—

(a)a hand-held mobile telephone; or (b)a hand-held device of a kind specified in paragraph (4).

(4) A device referred to in paragraphs (1)(b), (2)(b) and (3)(b) is a device, other than a two-way radio, which [is capable of transmitting and receiving data, whether or not those capabilities are enabled.]

(6) For the purposes of this regulation— (a)a mobile telephone or other device is to be treated as hand-held if it is, or must be, held at some point [while being used] ;

A smart watch definitely falls into the category of interactive devices in paragraph 4, so the question is whether you "hold" a smart watch while using it. The plain English answer would of course be no, you normally wear a watch while using it rather than holding it. That doesn't necessarily mean that a court hasn't interpreted "hold" under a definition that includes a wearing smart watch though, don't take this as legal advice.

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  • How hard would it be for legislators to specify that it's illegal to use such devices in any manner that might plausibly impair the safe operation of a motor vehicle, specifying that use of such devices would be presumed unsafe unless shown to be safe? Someone who glances at a smart watch simply to check the time could probably argue successfully that such usage was of such a fleeting nature as to not pose a hazard, but such arguments would be less successful when applied to more substantive tasks.
    – supercat
    Nov 18 at 21:23
  • @supercat I was considering that, it seems like it would be easy enough to borrow the language for DUI based on visible impairment. Something like "voluntarily distracted sufficient to impair their ability to drive safely." This would also have the advantage of covering other forms of voluntary distraction like looking in the mirror. Nov 18 at 22:06
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    @supercat, we didn't have laws against looking at your wristwatch before "smart" watches, we don't need them now. Nov 19 at 6:27
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    @MichaelHall that line of reasoning is entirely unconvincing. Wristwatches don't offer their users the ability to read paragraphs of text (among other actions that take far more time and attention than checking the time on a wristwatch). A smartwatch has the potential to distract a driver much more significantly than a wristwatch can.
    – phoog
    Nov 20 at 8:01
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    There's actually two definitional questions: whether you "hold" it (as you say) and whether simply wearing it counts as "using". I would claim that it's not using until you start operating it (by pressing buttons, or talking to it, or whatever). But if it has a scrolling or otherwise changing display, then we might expect that staring at it waiting for information constitutes a sufficient distraction from the road for a court to consider that "using". Nov 20 at 12:04

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