Google's Fight Against Distracted Driving Laws Might Not Be A Bad Thing For The Inevitable, Glorious Transhumanist Future

from the I-was-absolutely-not-watching-porn,-officer dept

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.

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Comments on “Google's Fight Against Distracted Driving Laws Might Not Be A Bad Thing For The Inevitable, Glorious Transhumanist Future”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Distracted driving = capital murder

Yep I agree. At the end of the day, the distracted driving laws are for the benefit of others more than yourself.

No one cares if you ram your car into a tree. They care if you make a pileup on the motorway, slowing everyone down, or cause an accident that kills their loved one.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Distracted driving = capital murder

They care if you make a pileup on the motorway, slowing everyone down,
> or cause an accident that kills their loved one.

Go further. …or cause an accident that kills anyone. Or even injures them.

Most people care even if the innocent victim is a complete stranger to them.

> the distracted driving laws are for
> the benefit of others more than yourself.

Most laws are directly for your benefit. Someone cannot rob you. Assault you. Kill you. Or hurt your feelings.
(Oh, wait, nevermind that last one.)

But distracted driving laws fit this. They are for YOUR benefit to protect YOU from distracted drivers.

It would be like saying drunk driving laws are for the benefit of others more than myself. I don’t drink, let alone drink and drive. But I consider drunk driving laws to be directly for my benefit. And since it protects everyone, not just me, this law is for everyone’s benefit.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think that it’s simultaneously hilarious and sad that when distracted driving comes up, everyone jumps to the use of electronic devices as the problem. But it’s not even in the top 3.

Of all accidents that have been deemed caused by distracted driving, the #1 distraction is having another person in the car with you. #2 is eating while driving. #3 is adjusting things such as mirrors, etc.

If anyone is serious about solving the distracted driving problem (and I don’t think they really are), then I would think that efforts would at least be focused on the top three distractions.

rycho (profile) says:

You write like HUD is a good thing. I get how HUD can be an aid, but it can also be a distraction. It’s one thing to have a simple speed indicator but once you start adding a bunch of navigational indicators it becomes a whole other thing.

I’m guessing that military pilots are highly trained in using their instrumentation and are also heavily supported with other (ground) personnel while in operational manoeuvres. That’s something the average motorist doesn’t get.

Arthur (profile) says:

Minority Report

Basically, this is attempting to stop an accident by looking for what could contribute to an accident. People who have not been distracted and have not been driving badly are going to be made “guilty” because someone, somewhere using similar devices has been distracted.

Good old pre-crime. You haven’t done anything to harm anyone but … you are guilty, here’s your ticket.

Violynne (profile) says:

Remember the days when the only distraction one had was selecting the “next song” button? Bring them back. Now.

Glass, phones, or even in-car systems are causing problems on the road. There’s simply no confidence people won’t keep these options to a minimum. Hell, most cars today have built-in systems to hook up phones, yet people still hold them to their ears (then whine the sound is bad from the speakers – it’s a phone, not an orchestra).

I just recently purchased a 2014 Ford Escape, which came with the Sync/MyFordTouch system.

I hate it… right now. As soon as I can memorize the basic speech commands, I’ll feel differently, but as it stands, the menu system throws everything at the user (vehicle in motion) because one may want to “repeat” a song, rather than “shuffle” them, or skip to the next track, and none of these options are easy to find in the “Let’s give every possible option to the user while they’re driving” screens (making the buttons smaller, too).

Even the basic heating system is just too complex to navigate, and if you think this is easily replaced by the button system, I suggest you head to and take a look at the console. Remember: we’re driving at 60+ mph while trying to fumble with what button it takes to actually adjust the fan. I want my damn slide controls back.

Now, I just “preset” the vehicle before I drive, and go. If it gets too hot, I lower the window.

Technology is a great thing, until you put it into the hands of the public.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Glass, phones, or even in-car systems are causing problems on the road”

Glass certainly should not be in this list, if only because there are barely any glass users on the roads at all.

I think that the evidence is very weak that phones or in-car systems are a major cause of problems on the road. The statistics indicate that other sources of distractions are far larger problems.

andrew_duane (profile) says:

Another silly attempt to micro-manage by specific technology, in an area where technologies change on a monthly basis. The rules against texting for example…. how about my phone which can text hands-free (voice control)? How about sending email? Twitter/Facebook updates? Thumbs up/down on Pandora? Touching the screen to see what time it is?

As for HUDs, my car can have one factory installed? Several makers are experimenting with HUDs to give important information. Will this be banned too? Will we need a lawyer to interpret whatever legal language comes out to tell us?

I’d sigh and say “my tax dollars at work” but it hardly seems like it’s working, now does it?

DannyB (profile) says:

It's funny what luddites worry about

Google glass? That’s like worrying about people with bluetooth headsets.

Or people using cellphones to surf the web, watch videos, or text each other.
Or people with cellphones held up to their head.
Or people with mp3 players.
Or people with small CD players and headphones.
Or people with small cassette tape players . . . . . .etc . . .

Shouldn’t these people worried about SkyNet or something?

Purple Emily says:

Problems for prescription Google Glass users

It seems like most people don’t concern themselves with the fact that people are using Google Glass as prescription glasses. I’m not going to carry a spare set of basic glasses to compensate for everyone who’s freaked out by the technology.

I wish that legislatures would make more advisory laws. If they’ve done the research and discovered something is bad (like using the phone while driving), they could let people know without making laws with ineffective or oppressive enforcement.

dpaus (profile) says:

Everything you need to know about distracted driving:

The Province of Ontario just announced that it has conducted a study which shows conclusively that merely having the screen of an electronic device visible to you causes sufficient distraction to degrade your driving as much as if you were drunk. Consequently, the police will now charge you if the screen of a device is visible to you. Period. And clearly, there can be no appeal of this; if you’re stopped, you’re guilty.

Here’s EVERYTHING you need to know about this study and the new law: the cops and their laptop computers are exempt.

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