The Apple Watch is announced / Getty

Warning comes as Department of Transport says motorists could face prosecution if found using their 'smart' watches at the wheel

Motoring groups have warned Apple’s smartwatch could be dangerous for drivers to use and could lead to more road deaths.

Head of policy and Research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Neil Greig, said: “An iWatch has the potential to be just as distracting as any other smartphone device.

“Indeed more so if you have to take your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road to interact with it.”

The Apple Watch, which has a screen measuring 38mm by 42mm, also sends users small vibrations – or pulses, which can send friends or loved ones their heartbeat.

Speaking to The Independent, Mr Grieg said: "There is no need for a change in the law, but more a change in enforcement. There are not enough officers and people need to be aware. People don't think they are going to get caught."

Previous research by IAM on smartphone use between 2006 and 2010, claimed distraction from a mobile device was a contributory factor in 1,960 road accidents which resulted in injuries – a figure which included 110 fatal accidents.

"In reality an iWatch is like a smart phone," he said. "Therefore our previous research is applicable to this new launch."

The warning came as a spokesperson from the Department of Transport confirmed drivers caught using the device behind the wheel would face the same penalties as those caught using mobile phones.

Speaking to The Independent, a spokesperson for the Department of Transport said: “The fact that the device is attached to your wrists does not matter,” continuing that because the new device was similar to a mobile phone police would have a verifiable “paper trail” to convict offenders.

Drivers caught using a hand-held mobile phone face a penalty of three license penalty points and a £100 fine.

The spokesperson continued, “The onus is on the driver to find out – not knowing it’s an offence is not an excuse.”

“I’m sure people will be caught,” he said. “You can only warn people and hope they listen.”

The Apple watches were announced earlier this month, after months of speculation. They will be available from next year from roughly £300.

Apple have not responded to requests for comment.