BUSINESS

Are smartwatches dangerous? Lawyer wants $1 billion campaign to warn drivers

An attorney is seeking a court order that four tech giants fund a $1-billion smartwatch warning campaign

After the Apple Watch ships to initial customers Friday, thousands of motorists might be sneaking a glance at the smartwatch to read text messages and other alerts.

That has at least one person concerned. On Monday, an attorney filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google that seeks a court order for the technology companies to fund a $1-billion public education campaign about the dangers of using a smartwatch while driving. In his lawsuit, Stephen Joseph says smartwatches represent a bigger distraction for drivers than smartphones because the vibrations and the sounds from the wrist-worn device will be tougher to ignore.

"The temptation to check the tiny screen immediately after receiving a notification is virtually irresistible," the suit says, adding that looking at the watch means "the road becomes invisible to the driver."

Last month, British consulting firm Transport Research Laboratory said in a report that looking at a smartwatch results in a delayed reaction time while driving of about 2.5 seconds, compared with about 1.9 seconds with a smartphone.

Joseph argues that watches — along with smartphones — represent a nuisance when used while driving and the technology companies' failure to issue warning is to blame. According to the complaint, that argument is based on a ruling this month by the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal that a nuisance case could be brought not just to hold a business responsible for the criminal acts of someone else, but also "to make such criminal activity ... less likely through the imposition of operating conditions." The case involved Los Angeles city officials trying to require a restaurant to hire a security guard and limit hours.

About 1.4 million Apple Watches were ordered by people in the U.S. during its first week on sale, the market research firm Slice Intelligence said in an estimate Monday. The first of those watches are expected to be delivered to consumers Friday.

Apple and the other companies didn't immediately respond to a request to comment.

paresh.dave@latimes.com

Twitter: @peard33

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