What a week it's been for Google Glass. First, one technology reporter, who was foolish enough to record a video with Glass at a bar, got into a fight over privacy concerns, and then several states moved to ban the use of Google Glass while driving.
The invasion of privacy debate is an old one, as is the question of how technology impacts driver safety, but Google Glass has reopened these questions and forced local and state governments to reexamine their policies. Although Glass can actually be used to improve driver safety via a virtual speedometer, traffic warnings and driving directions, it could also prove to be a huge distraction for drivers.
Texting while driving is banned in 41 states in America and 12 states ban hand-held cell phone use while driving, too. Many law enforcement and government officials worry that using Google Glass while driving could be equally distracting and potentially dangerous as cell phone use - if not more so. Although Glass can be used to make voice calls, which is perfectly legal to do while driving, it can also be used to watch videos, take videos, text and do other things that could distract a driver and endanger the safety of others on the road.
West Virginia, Illinois and New Jersey government officials have proposed legislation that would ban Glass use while driving, citing the danger of potential distraction to drivers as the reason for the ban. A proposal in New York calls upon the motor vehicle department to investigate how a ban on Google Glass would be enforced, should it one day become part of state law.
New York Assemblyman Marcos Crespo was the one who posed the question of enforcement to other lawmakers and insisted that it be looked into before any ban was passed.
"We know how hard it is to enforce texting," Crespo said. "Imagine how much harder it will be to enforce something as inconspicuous as Google Glass."
Meanwhile, Google has been doing some research of its own to try to prevent the bans on Glass from being passed. The company also reportedly hired lobbyists to help convince lawmakers that Glass isn't dangerous at all, that in fact, it might even be beneficial to drivers.
Anna Richardson White, a spokeswoman for Mountain View, California-based Google told Bloomberg in an email that Google wants to engage in a dialogue with concerned lawmakers to discuss the potential of Glass.
"Technology issues are a big part of the current policy discussion in individual states, and we think it's important to be a part of those discussions," she wrote. "We find that when people try it for themselves, they better understand the underlying principle that it's not meant to distract but rather to connect people more with the world around them."
For its own part, Google does warn Glass users on its website that they should abide by the law and use Glass only to enhance their awareness while driving.
"As you probably know, most states have passed laws limiting the use of mobile devices while driving any motor vehicle, and most states post those rules on their department of motor vehicles websites. Read up and follow the law! Above all, even when you're following the law, don't hurt yourself or others by failing to pay attention to the road. The same goes for bicycling: whether or not any laws limit your use of Glass, always be careful," Google says in the frequently asked questions section on the Glass website.
Google is fighting hard to prevent bans on Glass because it is aware that such bans would put a huge damper on enthusiasm for Glass. Being able to drive with Glass is one of the coolest things you can do, especially when you're taking a road trip. The directions you need are literally right in front of your eyes and if you need a coffee break, Glass can direct you right to the nearest Starbucks.
"These ban bills could limit the marketability of Google Glass," said Richard Bennett, a visiting scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute. "Driving is certainly one of the premier applications for Glass."
Preliminary studies of Glass show that it is less distracting than texting or other cell phone use, but lawmakers are still very concerned about the potential dangers of Glass, especially as it grows more popular.