Road safety campaigners are calling for a ban on the use of wearable technology, including smartwatches, by drivers.

Smartwatches from high-tech giants Samsung, Sony, Motorola and LG - which can be used for calls, texts and calendar notifications - are for sale in New Zealand. Apple is releasing its Apple Watch here later this year.

Laws banning drivers' use of phones - with an $80 fine and 20 demerit points - do not cover the use of wearable technology.

Caroline Perry, of road safety charity Brake, said the law should be widened, stating motorists using smart technology on their watches while driving should face the same sanctions.

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"A second's inattention at the wheel can result in tragedy," she said.

"Smartwatches and other wearable technology are extremely distracting if used while driving. Our advice to drivers is to take them off and put them out of reach so that you aren't tempted to use them at the wheel."

Governments around the world are taking action over motorists using wearable technology. Canadians can face fines of up to $120 for using smartwatches while driving. In the UK, motorists using a smartwatch face the same $442 fine as motorists caught on a phone.

British research shows the use of a wearable device may be even more distracting than a handheld mobile phone.

A recent study showed a driver reading a smartwatch message took 2.52 seconds to react to an emergency situation. A driver talking to a passenger would react in 0.9 seconds and someone on a mobile phone would respond in 1.85 seconds.

A New Zealand Police spokesman confirmed the use of wearable technology was not captured by current mobile phone laws.

There were no plans to alter legislation to include the new gadgets, but motorists could potentially be charged with careless driving if they were distracted by using a smartwatch.

"Our main message is to avoid their use altogether while driving and keep your attention fully focused on the road ahead," he said.

A Ministry of Transport spokeswoman also warned motorists against using smartwatches while behind the wheel.

"The more a driver's attention is diverted away from the task of driving, the greater is the risk of crashing," she said.

"The research on driver distraction shows that risk increases as the task becomes more complex, time consuming and frequent."