The recent verdict of the first court case involving Google Glass has led to much debate around the use of such technologies, and the Department of Transport has already stated that it is likely Glass will be banned on UK roads.
A female US motorist was recently cleared of a citation in San Diego for “driving with a visible monitor” – originally introduced for people driving while watching a video or TV monitor – as there lacked the necessary ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ that the device was in operation at the time of the alleged violation. However, the officer testified that the “hardware for this device was blocking her peripheral vision”. Although the judge concluded this was just speculation, some Glass users, or ‘Explorers’ as Google has nicknamed them, have admitted that it does partially block your peripheral vision and can be a slight distraction.
But, considering Google’s objective with Glass is to “free your hands” and “free your eyes”, it could be argued that there are actually some safety benefits for driving with Glass.
For example, in-car touchscreen systems are being developed by car manufacturers with features that try to avoid or at least limit driver distraction. If the driver were instead to use a navigation app via Google Glass and say the command “OK Glass, take me home”, for example, the simple directions would be displayed on the Glass in their peripheral vision rather than on a separate navigation screen. Therefore in theory the driver would never have a need to take his or her eyes of the road and Glass would be safer than current legally-accepted sat nav devices.
The same goes for other driving apps, such as traffic updates and car maintenance alerts. Hyundai has already announced a Glass app for the new Genesis model to access its vehicle safety, service and infotainment features.
The potential for future Google Glass driving apps is boundless – for example, when the motorist is informed by their car that its scheduled service is due, they could simply say “OK Glass, find my nearest dealer”, and be able to book a service there and then. If linked to the car’s infotainment system, the driver could say “OK Glass, play my driving music playlist”.
Is this the future of commuting?
This video from INRIX traffic demonstrates the benefits of driving with a Google Glass traffic app, which acts an enhanced navigation system.
However the recent court case in America does beg the question – what tools will officers have to police the use or wearing of Glass while driving, if deemed legal? If made legal to wear but not use, how would they prove the device is not in operation, and if made legal to use, how would motorists be deterred from using Glass for watching YouTube videos of cats playing the piano, for example?
On Google’s website under the FAQ “Can I use Glass while driving or bicycling?” the corporation advises users: “It depends on where you are and how you use it… most states have passed laws limiting the use of mobile devices while driving any motor vehicle… Read up and follow the law! Above all, even when you’re following the law, don’t hurt yourself or others by failing to pay attention to the road. The same goes for bicycling: whether or not any laws limit your use of Glass, always be careful.”
With this advice Google has attempted to pre-empt any lawsuits that might occur, and passed all responsibility on to the user, while also insinuating that Glass, when used irresponsibly, could be dangerous to drivers and other road users. Even so, Google’s promotional video for Glass features a clip of the benefits of driving apps.
This opens up further new-technology legal issues, for example the Telegraph makes a good point about concerns with self-drive cars: when a Google-operated car hits someone, who is responsible – the passenger, car manufacturer or software developer?
It’s clear that the legal system is already struggling to keep pace with new technologies. If other wearable technologies, such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear device, are developed to enhance your driving experience, will they also be considered as a “visible monitor”, or will they be treated similarly to mobile phones?
Using a mobile phone while driving was banned over 10 years ago in the UK and yet it’s still no surprise that 81 percent of drivers say they have used their phones while driving. As a result, over 68 lives have been lost over the last three years in accidents caused by the driver using a mobile phone. The Department of Transport has indicated that Glass users would be subject to the same mobile phone penalty under the 1988 Road Traffic Act.
So what about using hands-free mobile phone sets, surely this would be similar to using new technologies such as Glass? The Highway Code states that while hands-free sets are legal, drivers can still face penalties “if the police think you’re distracted”. Ambiguous?
The following video from Toyota is a great demonstration on how any interaction on a mobile phone can be a distraction and that the mind should only concentrate on one task at a time – like operating a one-tonne vehicle at speeds up to 70mph (legally)…
So should Glass be made legal for driving? It’s a debate that will certainly gather more interest as Glass rolls-out, but if a survey on a local San Diego website is anything to go by, 87% said no, and 13% said yes.