Can I Wear An iWatch While Driving?

The issuance of traffic tickets for illegally using a smart phone and other electronic device have exploded over the last few years in New York.  It is a very easy violation to spot and relatively easy one to prove in traffic court.  Further, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225-d, this offense carries a hefty punishment (5 points and roughly a $150 fine for a first offense).  With the surge of such moving violations, our law office has gotten all types of interesting questions about the scope of this law including whether an Apple iWatch can be worn and used while driving.  Or, as you’ll see below, the precise question … does “strapped” mean “holding”?

Under VTL Section 1225-d, it is illegal for a person to drive a motor vehicle while “using” and a “portable electronic device”.  While the definition of “using” in my opinion generally covers interactions with an iWatch and an iWatch clearly is a “portable electronic device”, I still believe that you can legally use an iWatch in New York without violating this provision.  I reach this opinion because, under VTL Section 1225-d(2)(b), the driver must be “holding” the device while using it in order to run afoul of the law, and generally people wear this type of device on their wrist.  I view it as a real stretch for a traffic judge to construe the word “hold” as encompassing a device that is strapped to a wrist.  A Google search of the definition of “hold” resulted in the following definition:  “grasp, carry, or support with one’s arms or hands.”   A strapped watch does not fall squarely within this definition.

On the other hand, this question has not been interpreted by any traffic court as far as I could un-cover.  Further, some traffic judges are quite liberal in interpreting traffic safety laws and, therefore, it would not surprise me for a different interpretation to be given by them.  For instance, one could argue that a strapped watch is “supported with one’s arms”.

With this all said, I would not test police officers by using (let alone flaunting) your iWatch while driving.  Further, using such a device is as dangerous, if not more dangerous, then using a smart phone or other un-strapped electronic device.  Therefore, my hope is that you do not use your iWatch or other electronic devices while driving.  Don’t look at them or click on them while driving.  For your safety and the safety of others, put it away while driving.

Below is the full text of New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225-d:

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • I don’t have a smart watch, but I’ve always wondered about my regular smartphone, which while I am driving is fixed to the dashboard with a clamp. At no time am I ever holding the device in my hand.

    Are there any situations in which this would be considered a violation? Obviously, using it as a hands-free telephone is the intended purpose. Using its navigation function seems safe too. But, what authorization would a police officer have to issue a ticket for, say, navigating through the device’s menu system while driving? Or having a video playing?

    Obviously we know that distracted driving is unsafe driving, and we avoid that. The reason I ask is because I listen to a lot of YouTube content while driving — it’s mostly commentary by talking heads so there’s not much to look at — but would an officer be permitted to ticket me for having that on?

    Reply
  • Using a broad definition of “electronic” it sounds like a police officer can arrest you for looking at your Casio watch to see what time it is.

    An Apple Watch is a time keeping device with other functions. I understand if you start messaging on the thing yes that would be a problem, but looking at your watch to find the time should not be illegal.

    Reply
    • Ray Pepi,

      First off, in the vast majority of traffic ticket stops, the police officer does NOT arrest you.

      Second, a police officer should not and generally will not ticket you for wearing a Casio or other watch. Wearing a watch does not violate VTL 1225d assuming you are wearing it on your wrist.

      Finally, VTL 1225d is only violated is you “hold” and use an electronic device while driving.

      Matthew Weiss

      Reply
  • robert meutsch
    May 27, 2015 10:22 pm

    it seems that the device is “supported” by an “arm”, so it would be a violation?

    Reply
    • Robert Meutsch,

      One could make that argument but “supported” could also be interpreted as meaning “held up”. I don’t think a judge would ordinarily construe a strapped on watch as supported.

      Matthew Weiss

      Reply

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