We've talked for years about how while distracted driving laws may be well-intentioned, they often present a new variety of problems. Requiring that touch screens are locked while the car is in motion, for example, ignores the fact that other people might be in the passenger seat
and interested in using the technology. Banning some behaviors can also cause people to try to hide the fact they're doing them, which has the potential to be more dangerous. While there's absolutely no doubt that distracted driving is a serious, significant problem (especially texting behind the wheel), the regulatory fixes proposed can often bring up a laundry list of unintentional new issues a politician with a fleeting understand of tech (and a limited imagination) might not be sensitive to.
Efforts to ban Google Glass while driving are similarly complicated. Reuters this week reported that Google lobbyists have been busy trying to shut down distracted laws in a handful of states, including Illinois, Delaware, and Missouri. The laws, also being proposed in New York, Maryland and West Virginia (among others), would in many cases ban outright the use of wearable computing devices. While there's no mistaking that Google's lobbying efforts are about protecting revenues first and foremost, there does seem to be a salient point being made in the midst of the discussion
"While Glass is currently in the hands of a small group of Explorers," the company said, "we find that when people try it for themselves they better understand the underlying principle that it's not meant to distract but rather connect people more with the world around them."
In my mind, Google Glass is effectively just a heads up display. It's an early, clunky plastic version of what's to come, but it's just a HUD. As any military pilot (or hey, the terminator
) could probably attest, there could very well be useful functionality embedded in such devices that provides the driver with additional information that could actually make them safer
or a better driver
. Blind spot monitoring and improved-view HUD cameras, traffic congestion warnings in the corner of your eye, subtle alerts about dangerous upcoming road conditions (think a crowd-sourced Waze
or some variant with a HUD) -- are they all bad? They're all to be banned?
That's not to say Glass and future variations of the concept won't be abused; people who aren't bright will certainly try to watch YouTube videos while driving eighty miles an hour on the Long Island Expressway. But people are either dumb, or they aren't. Your fellow highway dwellers are either entirely awful at operating motor vehicles -- or they aren't. If they're simply bad at it
, a bevy of new regulations or rules won't protect them (or you) from them being distracted by pretty much everything -- including chickens, a dropped cigarette, signs, loud noises, other people, farts, or their own thoughts.
Enforcement also seems like a tricky proposition here. As Glass naturally evolves and other companies jump on board, it's going to move from an obvious piece of wearable plastic computing, to contacts, eyeglasses or implants that aren't really distinguishable from normal human features. How does a police officer prove you were using this technology for distracting purposes, versus using it to help drive? They don't: as with current texting rules they just doltishly ban you from doing everything on a phone, even if you're just updating GPS settings
. How would law enforcement confirm what you're doing on your retina's HUD without violating your privacy? I'd imagine they won't.
Not to make a habit of siding with lobbyists too often, but it seems like outright bans on what is effectively heads up displays is a bridge too far. I'm not sure tech-challenged DC can effectively and intelligently navigate the transhumanist concerns of tomorrow when they're not even capable of understanding the simple technology issues of today. That said, I'm all for other, more ingenious ways of getting nitwits off the road if anybody has some.