Google Glass Comes To A Crashing Halt

ImageIn this day and age, technology is becoming rapidly more accepted into the mainstream. Computers that once would have filled an entire room now fit in the palm of our hand and aid us in our everyday lives. In fact, rates of adoption, maturation, and saturation of new technologies in the US market have increased greatly; approximately double from mobile phones to smart phones. This points to a general public that is growing ever more aware and accepting of new technologies, and which is keyed in to the issues surrounding new technologies and those who use them.

This tech-aware public is why now could not be a better time for Google Glass to be making waves in the news. A woman was pulled over and ticketed by a cop while wearing Google’s new product, prompting us to examine the laws surrounding new technology such as Glass. A quick brushup on what Glass is exactly: it is worn much like glasses are, on the head, but contains a computer and small translucent screen attached to it. The screen sits “above the right eye, not directly in front of the eye”. This screen can display useful things such as GPS and map information. Out of the context of driving, it can also search the web, check email, and perform video chats. It is operated by voice, and does not require the user to take up their hands in order to utilize its features. Additionally, the user is able to hear the sound that Glass is emitting through a unique system whereby the soundwaves are conducted through the user’s bones. This sound has been noted to not drown out background noise as it does not obstruct the ears, and also is not audible to anyone else.

The policeman originally pulled over the woman in question, Cecilia Abadie, for speeding. This mundane ticket was quickly entangled in a growing national debate over whether driving with Glass should be against the law. He added an additional charge to the speeding ticket after seeing that Abadie was wearing Glass; distracted driving by means of a video screen facing the driver. This charge should not stand on multiple accounts. First of all, the law states that there are exceptions to be made for video screens related to “GPS and mapping tools… to help the driver navigate”. Google Glass has clear applications in the field of GPS and navigation assistance, in fact, it is one of the advertised features. Compared to a normal GPS system, which has a screen embedded in the dashboard or on the user’s smartphone, I believe Glass is a much safer approach.

Glass is fully voice activated, whereas many GPS and smartphone equivalents require the user to interact with a touchscreen or physical buttons while driving. Studies show that using a smartphone while driving has results more dangerous than drinking and driving. The study measured 37.6% slower reaction times to road events while sending Facebook messages, more than while under the influence of alcohol or cannabis (12.5% and 21%). Though Glass is technically a kind of screen, it no doubt presents a marked improvement over a traditional smartphone screen. This stems from the handsfree and immersive nature of the device’s screen. Though the screen on Glass is not directly in the user’s line of sight, this is of a less significant nature than with other GPS systems. As the screen on Glass is very close to the user’s eye, the distance the eye must travel to be able to make use of Glass is less than that of switching one’s eyes from the road to the dashboard console. Someone using Glass for GPS is also still able to see the road through its translucent screen.

There are many other ways in which Glass is safer than the smartphones that the law Abadie was ticketed for are ostensibly created to limit. It does not drown out important audio queues for the driver by plugging up their ears with earbuds. A study shows that people are increasingly injured while wearing headphones or earbuds. The study shows that there has been a six times increase in the number of injuries wherein the injured was wearing headphones. Though this is not conclusive, it suggests that blocking out foreign noises can be dangerous in that it prevents one from hearing important audio cues in one’s surroundings, such as ambulances or skidding vehicles. Another line of thought is that headphones cause a psychological effect whereby the user pays less attention to the outside world because they feel more isolated with their music or audio. In the context of driving, both of these arguments apply. Whereas a user might wear headphones when using a smartphone, they do not have to when using Glass. They are instead able to hear outside noises and are not given the sensation of being isolated, keeping them focused on the task at hand.

Of course, there should be laws to govern Google Glass that have yet to be developed. But rather than having nuanced laws to fit this new technology now, laws that apply to old technologies have to be used in the meantime. The law regarding screens makes perfect sense with regards to smartphone and other screens, but there is, as of yet, no distinction between that kind of screen and the kind used on Google Glass. Though Glass represents more of a distraction than, say, having no screens at all visible to the driver, the fact that GPS tools are allowed under California state law while driving suggests that the law will make concessions in the name of helping drivers navigate. In this sense Glass provides a service that legally falls under current laws while also minimizing risks associated with current navigation software and hardware.

Much like laws had to evolve to govern the use of smartphones while driving, so too must laws adapt to the new technology of Google Glass. Though the product maintains some of the issues of the distractions that are smartphones, it also provides a useful service in its GPS and navigation software. As the current law allows for screens displaying such information, it seems obvious that Glass would be allowed too. Furthermore, as an alternative to a user looking away from the road to look at their GPS, Glass shows marked improvements, as it is both closer to the eye and also allows the user to see through the translucent screen, maintaining awareness of the road.

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One Comment to “Google Glass Comes To A Crashing Halt”

  1. This seems to be a complicated issue. As long as you are driving with both hands on the wheel, it should be safe to wear Glass, right? Why do we need to be told not to drive while wearing a device that projects information and navigation in our immediate field of vision? Since it is new technology, we are still unaware of the possible consequences that might occur from wearing Glass while driving. Maybe for now, Google Glass wearers should put the devices away while driving until it is tested to be safe while driving.

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