Changes to the Highway Code introduced this Spring includes an on-the-spot £200 fixed penalty notice and six points on a licence for motorists caught using a hand-held device that can send and receive data whilst driving, including smartphones, sat-navs and tablets. However, many are unaware that these changes include checking smartwatches and wearables.

A new survey by Venson Automotive Management worryingly reveals that 37% of motorists wear a smartwatch or wearable that delivers text messages and notifications and one in three interact with these devices whilst driving. Men are more likely to interact with their smartwatch or wearable than women; 25% of men confirmed they check notifications compared to just 8% of women.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers have a duty to manage occupational road risks as part of their wider management responsibilities. Communicating the updates to the Highway Code and having an up to date Workplace Transport Risk Assessment and Policy in place, are highly recommended.

Alison Bell, Operations Director for Venson Automotive Management commented, “The majority of company car and van driver policies provided by fleet managers and businesses will have already addressed the use of smartphones whilst driving. However, many may have overlooked the risk that smartwatches and wearables pose to drivers and other road users. Indeed, checking for notifications or reading text messages on such a device could be considered a crime as it can constitute as careless or distracted driving.

“Using a mobile phone to make a call whilst driving has been an offence since 2003, but today, drivers are no longer allowed to take photos or videos, scroll through playlists or play games on their phones when driving. For HGV drivers the penalties are even more severe if caught. They face an instant ban and face a maximum fine of £2,500.”

The good news is that smart devices can be used if secured in a cradle and 33% of motorists surveyed by Venson said they use one. Another 39% said they place their phone out of reach to avoid the temptation of picking it up. However, that still leaves more than one in four people admitting to balancing their phone in a cupholder, door pocket or on their lap for ease of use.

Continues Alison Bell, “It is important for all businesses utilising company car and van fleets, as well as those allowing employees to use private cars for business use, that it is illegal to ‘cause or permit’ an employee to use a hand-held device while driving. An employer who requires employees to use a handheld device when driving is just as liable as the driver.”

As a final word of caution, Venson adds that driving without due care and attention extends beyond the use of smart devices, and can incur penalties of either a disqualification, or between 3 and 9 points. Respondents to its latest survey admitted to being distracted whilst driving by adjusting seat, mirror and steering wheel positions (61%), eating whilst driving (39%) and using a vehicle’s in-car infotainment system (28%).