Google and its Explorers seem to think that face-mounted devices like Glass are the natural evolution of computing, and the perfect way to augment everyday experiences. So naturally they’ll be pissed to learn that Illinois is threatening to ban driving with Google Glass. The state says it’s too distracting. But that’s missing the point, because HUDs don’t actually improve the driving experience in the first place.
If visual assistance worked, car HUD systems would be championed by car manufacturers instead of existing only in aftermarket hacks that get middling reviews. Almost a decade after TomTom’s and Garmin’s respective dashboard navigators debuted, visual assistance hasn’t revolutionized the driving experience nearly as much as a simpler alternative: audio step-by-step instruction.
So who’s asking for Glass-assisted driving? Certainly not researchers who assert that we can’t even handle legally permitted hands-free phone conversations, which reduce driver competence to drunk driving levels. The legality of Glass-while-driving is moot: We can barely handle legally permitted phone conversations.
Google’s position on Glass’ driving distraction is tellingly non-combative. In a widely-quoted statement, Google spokeswoman Anna Richardson White said to make public safety the priority, insisting that “Glass is built to connect you more with the world around you, not distract you from it.” Google’s online position for using Glass while driving or biking is simple: Follow your local laws.
The proposed Illinois law to ban Glass on the roads follows a West Virginia law put forth by state Delagate Gary Howell that would go up for debate early next year. Each state’s rules and requirements for device use while driving is different: Illinois, for example, allows video display of vehicle information, maps, rear cameras, and navigation and bans watching television or movies on said display. But police can’t tell what you’re watching on Glass, as Howell notes: “There’s no way law enforcement officers can tell whether you’re watching a cat video or using your GPS system.”
As Google says in its online FAQ, like everything, there’s a time and a place for Glass. Since in-dash, dashboard, and HUD displays haven’t done much for driving, it’s safe to say that we’ve hit a plateau of technological assistance that will only be surmounted with advances that don’t tax our attention spans.