Should We Really Ban Google Glass While Driving?

Is it such a stretch to imagine a world in which devices like Google's glasses are legal while driving, so long as they adhere to operational strictures based on careful research?

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Stephen Lam / Reuters

Sergey Brin, CEO and co-founder of Google, watches a live broadcast as two parachutists prepare to jump out of a plane while wearing Google Glass during Google I/O 2012 at Moscone Center in San Francisco on June 27, 2012

I’ve just slipped on a pair of Google’s funky, futuristic eyewear, which looks a little like half of a lensless, tricked-out pair of Oakleys. I’m also driving. Out the window, I see an interstate sign — through my pair of Google glasses, a minimalist GPS overlay indicates this is my exit. I take it. As I’m pulling down the ramp, I tilt my gaze up at piles of gray clouds, the sun just starting to emerge. Through Google’s tiny, cyclopean display, I notice the temperature outside is 53°F and rising. Turning right at the ramp intersection, I can just see a commercial jet lifting off from the airport a few miles down the road. The readout in my heads-up display indicates my flight is on time. All the while, my phone hasn’t moved from my shirt pocket, my eyes haven’t left the road and my hands haven’t left the wheel.

O.K., none of this is actually happening — I’ve yet to lay hands on a pair of Google’s ballyhooed cyberglasses. In fact I’m only vaguely interested in head-mounted technology, whether it’s coming from Nintendo, James Cameron or Sergey Brin. It sounds — and every time I’ve tried it, feels — like a compromise on the longer road to implanting subdermal CPUs and hardwiring our optic nerves.

But that’s still decades away (well, probably), and whether I’m Google’s target audience or not, these things are coming: a $1,500 cyberpunk geek’s dream come true, backed by a multinational corporation with a guiding hand in how we aggregate information — search, news, e-mail, maps, video, documents, translation, social networking and more — already today. Augmented-reality devices have been around for decades, but never quite like this. Smartphones and tablets do it; so can dedicated handhelds like Nintendo’s 3DS. But those devices require hands. Google Glass sits on your face, more or less the way any pair of glasses would, and instead of firing a laser at your retina, it simply displays information on a small glass monocle perched slightly above one eye.

And yet the technology’s already perturbing lawmakers: the West Virginia legislature just introduced an amendment to an existing bill to establish “the offense of operating a motor vehicle using a wearable computer with a head-mounted display.” West Virginia already bans texting while driving or using a phone without a hands-free device; the amendment would add “using a wearable computer with head-mounted display” to its list of operational no-nos.

But isn’t Google Glass also a hands-free device for your eyes? A way of potentially freeing you from looking at things that might otherwise take your eyes completely off the road, whether glancing at your phone to check the time or answer a call or scan the weather?

Let’s review some of the metrics on distracted driving. As I noted in a story on “texting-blocking” tech last year, according to a National Safety Council (NSC) report, in 2010, 21% of all crashes (1.1 million total) involved people talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones. On top of that, an additional 3% or more (at least 160,000) crashes involved texting. And the rates have gone up since: so far in 2012, the NSC estimates that a crash involving “drivers using cell phones and texting” occurs every 24 seconds.

You won’t find many defending the right to text while driving, but would wearing a head-mounted display be the same thing? Isn’t the question less about whether we ought to allow heads-up technology in vehicles — we’re already required to pay attention to all sorts of rapid-fire, incoming visual information while driving — but of how much and what type of information should be allowable? Shouldn’t we at least consider whether a display’s relationship to the physical world around us can be such that it’s either at worst, innocuous, or at best, actually helpful (and not a distraction)?

Is absorbing information through a transparent lens while maintaining line of sight through your windshield the same thing as looking down at your smartphone and taking your eyes completely off the road? I don’t know that the former’s necessarily safer, since you still have to play a depth-of-field and focus game, but — at least in theory — your reaction time might improve. I’m no expert on reaction times and cognitive processes and how these interrelate to where your visual focus is, but shouldn’t we run case studies before we throw blanket legislation at hypotheticals? Allowing drivers to wear heads-up displays firing information at their eyeballs nonstop may indeed be dangerous, but allowing unstudied legislative paranoia to supersede careful research is equally so. At least do the research first, right?

I’m speculating here, but I’m wondering whether a pair of Google glasses with “driver-mode” restrictions and basic snippets of information might not be a safer way to drive. I don’t know about you, but I have to look down at the dashboard to check my speed, my gauge lights, my fuel efficiency, my GPS navigation readout, how much fuel I have left and so forth. These things require I take my eyes off the road no matter what.

Now imagine a heads-up display that allowed you to keep your line of sight trained on the road while providing navigational info — optionally, of course, since with Google’s glasses, we’re talking about a single monocle, not two lenses that cover both eyes like a regular pair of glasses. Imagine that monocle displaying basic GPS information as you drive, perhaps drawing an outline around a road sign indicating a turnoff and generally placing unobtrusive signaling indicators over the world in real time — not unlike the way NFL broadcasters indicate the mechanics of a play on the field using video-overlay technology.

Just because you add something to your visual field doesn’t mean it has to be distracting. Indeed, some types of augmentation might be harmlessly supplemental. The question shouldn’t be whether to ban all forms of augmented information (and certainly not out of the gate, in the absence of research), but which forms of augmented information might be safe — or, indeed, might actually enhance driving safety. We already have operational guidelines for vehicles and their subsystems. Is it such a stretch to imagine a world in which devices like Google’s glasses are legal while driving, so long as they adhere to operational strictures based on careful research?

26 comments
DenisG.Cowles
DenisG.Cowles

HUD defies have been used in fighter planes for years now and if they were not a safe technology they would not be Boeing used so I'm not really seeing where the google glasses or a similar device being used as a HUD device is going to cause any more crashes than would happen by using a map or a GPS or your side view and rear view mirrors as often as you are supposed to.

gimmespam
gimmespam

According to the article, the NSC report stated that 21% of all crashes involved people talking on phones. Of course, this means that 21% of all accidents would be avoided if phones were banned. Of course, this is wrong.

I looked at the NSC report. It stated that 21% of all crashes were "likely attributable to talking on cell phones while driving." It also states that about 1.1 million crashes involve drivers talking on cell phones. This number is 21% of all crashes.  In the same report, they state that, according to the NHTSA's NOPUS survey, 9% of drivers are talking on cell phones at any given point. It would be expected, then, that 9% of all crashes would involve drivers talking on cell phones without the cell phones being the cause. That's 487,000 of the 1.1 million crashes, leaving about 651,000 more crashes than expected in the group of drivers talking on cell phones, or 12%.

This still seems like a big number, until you look closely at the NOPUS survey and realize that the 9% number is too low. The survey was based off observations by data collectors of vehicles stopped at intersections and only counts drivers who are "holding phones to their ears, speaking with visible headsets on, and visibly manipulating hand-held devices." According to the survey text, " data collector may not have knowledge of various types of wireless phones," so not every hand-held phone was counted. In addition, they only counted drivers who are "speaking with visible headsets on." So, drivers who were not talking, and were only listening, weren't counted. By the study's own admission, drivers wearing headsets that weren't visible ("obscured by hair or clothing" or "on the driver's left ear") weren't counted. In addition, drivers who were on the phone "using technology that cannot be observed by the roadside" were not counted. This would include speakerphones, which are built-in to most phones these days and are becoming very common in cars. That is a large number of phones not counted.

The percentage of drivers who are talking on cell phones at any given point is likely much higher than 9%. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it was closer to 21%. If 21% of all drivers are talking on phones, it would be expected that 21% of all crashes would involve drivers talking on phones.

I'm not saying that talking on cell phones is safe. I'm just saying that using an admittedly-flawed survey to create new laws is wrong. After all, 12% of cars are red (http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/710-whats-the-most-popular-car-color.html), so maybe we should outlaw red cars to reduce the accidents.


luscusrex
luscusrex

I dont care if you are focusing in on a HUD, on your phone whilst holding it up in front of the windshield, if you are looking at your speedometer. If you take your eyes of the road and someone does something stupid in front of you, you will either have an accident or have to change your pants when you get home.

I have driven 30 minutes talking to someone on the phone with my earphones on, and when I arrive I cannot remember how I got there! 

I remember using a microscope with 1 viewer with both my eyes open, and the eye that was not on the viewer simply focused out, same thing with a HUD.

Having said all of this, I believe it will all me moot in about 10 years because cars will drive themselves, ahhhhh that will be nice.

vermont.hermit
vermont.hermit

Mr Peckham writes: " I have to look down at the dashboard to check my speed, my gauge lights, my fuel efficiency, my GPS navigation readout, how much fuel I have left and so forth. These things require I take my eyes off the road no matter what.

Really Dude? I glance at the dashboard once to check my fuel supply. It doesn't take a genius IQ or constant readings to know if the 1/2 fuel tank is enough to get to the office and back. I generally know where I am driving to and don't need a GPS device during my normal day. I set my radio once and leave it alone. If you can not drive in the same manner then I really feel sorry for you. If you can't keep your attention on the road and other drivers as it is then you should probably not be driving at all. And I do believe that people who are driving should not be tempted into using Google Glass.

As far as enforcing any such ban, maybe it will come after the accident, on a case by case basis. "Distracted driving" covers a lot of things, and they all impinge on the cost of insurance!

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

Sure, ban Google Glasses from the road! But then, of course, you'd have to enforce it. Are police going to begin profiling people driving with glasses on? 

I think the reality of the situation is that technology is becoming so profoundly integrated into our lives in such simple ways that enforcing the restriction of its use will become impossible.

willienapalm
willienapalm

What about all the advertising on buildings, etc.? How is that any better? Every single day I drive to work I feel constantly distracted by bus signs, billboards. I know the answer... but why do we allow so much advertising distraction on the roads?

cgrrl80
cgrrl80

@alexrmurf  I don't know who you work for, but I will feel VERY uncomfortable with drivers taking their attention off the road to do anything, no less having this contraption being their "guide". Please get real. I would take my safety and a gps over looking cool. 

alexrmurf
alexrmurf

Couldn't agree more. Some people are really blowing the distraction element of Glass (and of course the video capturing element) WAY out of proportion. I feel these will decrease distractions while driving (especially since it's mostly voice commands) and lead to less car accidents. And if not...well, Google's got us covered with self-driving cars as well ;-)

jsolinsky
jsolinsky

Car manufacturer are already building displays into your windshield and studies have shown that they are significantly safer than the alternatives.

Google glass is no different.

The effort to ban it is just a publicity stunt by an unimportant state legislator.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Studies have already concluded that hands free devices are still dangerous. It's your ATTENTION that's required, not just your vision. If a legislature wants to preempt an obviously bad idea, more power to them. 


luigicappel
luigicappel

This is going to be a very contentious issue. Driving mode isn't a bad idea, but how do the glasses know you are the driver and not a passenger. The passenger is of course the perfect person to help with fine navigation, such as looking for live car park availability, offers or other information. Another major challenge is how would anyone know you were wearing AR glasses or contacts? They will eventually look the same as normal glasses and people who can't afford them might be wearing lookalikes.

Other potential issues from the future include over usage http://ow.ly/jrn6v and GGSS  http://ow.ly/jrndq

merri_magic
merri_magic

Too many people almost literally can't chew gum and walk at the same time.  Minute distractions in the 'ordinary world' cause numerous accidents.  Why add one more doodad to complicate an environment where we must pay strict attention at all times, to what is going on around us. Hurtling on roads at 30 to  60+ mph cuts down our response time already.  Add even one more task, and the accident and death rate goes up.


gimmespam
gimmespam

@DenisG.Cowles There are four big differences between HUD in a fighter plane and Google glasses in a car.


1) The fighter plane HUD won't surf the web or display emails.

2) You have to go through MUCH more training and meet MUCH higher standards to be a fighter pilot than an automobile driver.

3) If are other planes anywhere near the fighter plane, the pilots of those planes are highly skilled, unlike driving a car where you are within a few feet of dozens of other cars with horrible drivers behind the wheels.

4) A fighter plane will audibly alert the pilot if another plane is approaching.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@vermont.hermit You make the same mistake most other low-IQ individuals make: Basing what others should be doing on what YOU do.

And you utterly fail to see the point: They don't.

Try being a pilot sometime without a HUD.  A lot of good pilots ended up slamming into mountains while looking down at instruments.  And the opportunities for flying into the ground are VASTLY fewer than the opportunities for slamming into something while driving.  Combine that with what other say they do and you get disaster.  Maybe YOU'RE Mr. Perfect and never make a mistake.  But even if you're perfect, you can die just as quickly by someone who isn't.

Anything that keeps eyes on the road is a good thing.

The_night_bowler
The_night_bowler

@jsolinsky 

But do these windshield displays have an internet-connected google  search function,  photo search and display,  message function.......all to possibly get distracted by?

I don't think the idea of Google Glass was to provide for safer driving.  

staticint
staticint

@PaulDirks If we want to reduce the number of attention-grabbing things while driving, shouldn't we limit them to as few as possible? So rather than looking to your right constantly for a speed limit side, looking down to make sure you still have gas, looking in another direction to glance at your GPS, why not just have one central hub for all that information?

alexrmurf
alexrmurf

@luigicappel How will Glass know if you're the driver? Easy, there's a camera, and it can recognize the shape of a steering wheel in front of you and your hands on it. Combine that with it's knowledge that you're moving fast (therefore driving) and it would be pretty easy to determine whether you're driving or not. 

luigi.cappel
luigi.cappel

@merri_magic We add technology because we can and because it is cool. Agree with it or not, it's going to happen.

staticint
staticint

@merri_magic Not if it simultaneously reduces the number of minute distractions by, as the author of the article says, preventing us from having to look around at gas, GPS, even speed limit signs. The net amount of distractions decreases.

DenisG.Cowles
DenisG.Cowles

@gimmespam @DenisG.Cowles the other aspects of we surfing and picture taking and other items that would be a distraction could be made to be inoperable when behind a wheel automatically without the driver being able to change it back. They have quote "proven" unquote that people are distracted just as much with hands free devices as they are with devices that they are actively using with their hands so, if this is the case, then it follows that people would be just as distracted by passengers they are talking to while they are driving as well so wouldn't it be more prudent to just make cars one person vehicles or make a separate compartment for the driver where he/she won't be distracted by passengers? So telling me that you need tons of training to use a HUD device is nesasary is a crock when the pilots that are flying those jets are getting all of that training not because of the HUD but because of the vehicle that they are flying and the HUD is making flying it much easier and less distracting for the pilots so that they can always look forward without having to look down and be distracted by all of the dials and other machinery required to fly that jet.

DenisG.Cowles
DenisG.Cowles

@gimmespam @DenisG.Cowles the other aspects of we surfing and picture taking and other items that would be a distraction could be made to be inoperable when behind a wheel automatically without the driver being able to change it back. They have quote "proven" unquote that people are distracted just as much with hands free devices as they are with devices that they are actively using with their hands so, if this is the case, then it follows that people would be just as distracted by passengers they are talking to while they are driving as well so wouldn't it be more prudent to just make cars one person vehicles or make a separate compartment for the driver where he/she won't be distracted by passengers?

So telling me that you need tons of training to use a HUD device is nesasary is a crock when the pilots that are flying those jets are getting all of that training not because of the HUD but because of the vehicle that they are flying and the HUD is making flying it much easier and less distracting for the pilots so that they can always look forward without having to look down and be distracted by all of the dials and other machinery required to fly that jet.

vermont.hermit
vermont.hermit

@DeweySayenoff @vermont.hermit

Dewey: you wrote that "Anything that keeps eyes on the road is a good thing"... I totally agree with you. If you reread my post, I am objecting to the fact that Mr. Peckham was being absurd in his arguement that he already needs to take his eyes off the road for so many tasks. They are his words, not mine. I have to drive very defensively every day because of all the idiots yakking away on their cell phones while driving. They miss the light changing color, the go thru stop signs, theydrive past school busses that are in the process of disgorging kids... all distracted driving. Let's not add to it!

luigi.cappel
luigi.cappel

@staticint @merri_magic I've been working on image recognition technology for street signs, the goal of which is to confirm that the speed in car navigation systems is current. Car nav with good location data already warns you when you are speeding. It is very easy to get to an information overload situation. I don't believe that it would reduce the number of distractions unless you limit the data that you receive or only access it when you want. Imagine asking Siri for where the cheapest gas is near you and in the direction you are driving, or where the nearest and cheapest car park is, which has vacant spaces. If all of that, plus deals, plus advertising, road conditions, real time traffic, not to mention that you have just received a couple of tweets and a text message, was sitting there in the corner of your eye, or you activated it because you were looking at that corner of your glasses, there are risks.

I'm not anti, I work in the AR business. I just want to make sure that solutions are safe and that standards are set which allow people to use these technologies in a beneficial way and that legislators don't shut it down. If he industry starts with voluntary standards, it might have a better chance of being accepted. I think companies like BMW will create interfaces to the car, which will include safety features. They already have eye monitoring technology to track you if you are nodding off. Most people won't be able to afford those cars though:)