Google Glass users be forewarned—if you’re thinking about wearing any kind of head-mounted displays while driving on roadways in West Virginia, you might want to reconsider.
A West Virginia state legislator has introduced a bill, House Bill 3057, that would make the use of head-mounted displays such as Google Glass illegal on the state’s roads due to such safety concerns as driver distraction.
The proposal came about after Gary Howell, a Republican state representative in West Virginia’s 56th district, read news stories about Google Glass and realized that they are related to other handheld electronic devices that are were banned from use by drivers under a law enacted last year. The problem, Howell told eWEEK in an interview, is that last year’s law didn’t specifically address the use of head-mounted displays, which would potentially allow their unregulated use.
“This got me thinking that Google Glass and whatever its competition will be are hands-free devices,” which at are allowed under the new law, Howell said.
The problem is that they are able to present many more kinds of information to users in ways that are distracting, such as information on a small display in front of the user’s eye, which weren’t covered by the new law, he said.
“When we were debating the hands-free device bill, we heard stories about people texting even while they were being followed by police cars with their emergency lights on, and the people didn’t even realize that the officer was trying to stop them,” Howell said. “I can just see the people doing this kind of thing using things like Google Glass.”
The proposed bill has been assigned to the legislature’s Roads and Transportation Committee, and must be sent to the state’s House of Delegates by April 5 or it will be dead for the rest of the year, Howell said. If the bill does not move forward in this session, he said he might recommend it for consideration in the next legislative session.
The legislature will seek comments from cellular providers, other stakeholders and even Google itself, he said.
The issue with head-mounted displays is that while some features might be useful, such as built-in GPS, which is discussed as being part of Google Glass, other features would simply be distracting to most drivers, he said.
“I could see how GPS could be helpful,” Howell said. “But you can also dictate a word document and do other things that could be distracting.”
One of Howell’s main concerns, he said, is for young drivers, who might be especially interested in using the high-tech devices when they presumably go on sale to the general public sometime in 2014, even at a projected price of some $1,500.
“One problem with it that I see is they are also the most inexperienced drivers,” said Howell. “That’s a bad combination.”
Head-mounted displays are not exactly like heads-up displays in some vehicles, which project information about the vehicle and its operating conditions to the driver, he said. Products like Google Glass provide information on a much larger variety of topics, including news, video and more.
“Our jet pilots who have heads-up displays are already talking about having information overload,” Howell said. For young drivers in particular, head-mounted displays would be a major distraction and safety concern, he said.
His proposed law would have a fine of $100 for a first offense, and $200 to $300 fines for subsequent offenses.
Google Glass May Not Be Welcome for Drivers in West Virginia
In a reply to an eWEEK inquiry about the proposed law, a Google spokesperson said that the idea behind Glass could actually help drivers operate their vehicles more safely.
“We are putting a lot of thought into the design of Glass because new technologies always raise new issues,” the spokesperson wrote in an email reply. “We actually believe there is tremendous potential to improve safety on our roads and reduce accidents. As always, feedback is welcome.”
Instead of banning such devices before seeing how they work in real life, regulators should wait to see what the devices truly bring to the table before enacting new laws about them, according to Google. Some of the positive features of Google Glass would include its GPS functions, such as built-in turn-by-turn navigation. The devices take advantage of voice activation for many features, which would prevent them from being distractions, according to Google. The devices are designed to give information through a quick glance and are not meant for prolonged viewing or reading by drivers, Google says.
The basic components of Google Glass feature an Android-powered display, a tiny Webcam, a GPS locator and an Internet connection node built into one side of a pair of glasses. The glasses are lightweight and may or may not have lenses.
So far, Glass has only been available to developers who attended the annual Google I/O conference in June 2012, when the device was unveiled officially. Those developers were given the first chances to buy the initial Explorer Edition of the product for $1,500 each. The first consumer versions are not expected to hit the market until 2014, according to Google.
Recently Google confirmed that prescription lenses will eventually be offered for users who need them to use Google Glass.
Even though Google Glass has yet to hit the market, rumors of the next generation of the product already started showing up in February. The initial reports, based on a purported patent application, call for version 2 to work with both of the wearer’s eyes using specialized lasers that would provide a dual-eye image, rather than the original version’s one-eye display.
In February, Google also announced that it will expand its Google Glass testing pool to get more testers and collect additional input for the still-evolving project. The company invited interested applicants to submit proposals for a chance to buy an early model and become a part of its continuing development.
As part of the expanded testing program, Google also unveiled some cool new details about Glass through a brief video that explores some of its early capabilities.
Google also recently revealed that the Glass devices will transmit sound to its users via vibrations through human bones rather than relying on traditional speakers.