Google just won’t quit. First they reinvented how we search for info, then they moved on to driverless cars, and now they’re looking to remake the human-tech interface entirely with Google Glass, the mobile device you wear (like a pair of glasses).

As we’ve seen with smartphones and the rise in distracted driving, new tech inevitably impacts how we drive. And Glass stands to dramatically affect the safety of our roads.

But how, exactly? The way I see it, Glass will change driving in 1 of 2 ways: either it’ll eradicate distraction entirely … or it’ll create more opportunities for straying eyes, wandering minds, and drifting cars.

Let’s look at both sides of the argument.

Google Glass will make driving distraction-free

On one hand, Google Glass could make driving much safer because it takes those distracting mobile devices out of our hands.

Users activate and interact with Glass using minimal gestures and voice (à la Apple’s Siri technology), calling up information and media on a tiny screen that sits just above the line of sight. And that means less one-hand-on-the-wheel texting or eyes-off-the-road GPS-adjusting. With Google Glass resting comfortably on their faces, drivers will be able to pull up directions, send messages, and even shoot video and photos — all with their hands (mostly) at 10 and 2 and eyes (mostly) on the road.

Plus, with GPS directions displayed right before their eyes, drivers might find it easier than ever to navigate since their direction of travel and their eyeline will better cohere. (Ever had to tilt your phone around to make the map reflect your current location and direction?)

Sounds a whole lot safer than driving with a smartphone in hand, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not.

Google Glass will only amplify driver distraction

Despite many people’s assumptions, using a mobile device with some sort of hands-free technology (such as a headphone with integral speaker or a Bluetooth device) isn’t that much safer than driving with a smartphone in hand.

In fact, the National Safety Council has boldly stated that “Hands-free devices offer no safety benefit when driving.”

But why not? If your eyes are on the road and your hands on the wheel, you’re good to go, right?

Google Glass and the 3 types of distraction

Turns out that there are 3 types of distraction that can happen while driving:

  1. Visual – what your eyes are doing, obviously
  2. Manual – where your hands are
  3. Cognitive – how close to reality (or up in the clouds) your mind is

So while 2 out of 3 doesn’t seem so bad, Google Glass stands to be a huge source of cognitive distraction — and that’s the type of distraction that seems to have the greatest impact, according to researchers.

The reason: cognitive distraction is less immediately apparent than visual and manual distraction. After all, it’s easy to tell when you’ve been gazing adoringly at your copilot too long or let your hands roam too far in the quest for that rogue french fry. But when your mind is wandering … well, it’s just wandering. And that means cognitive distraction tends to last much longer than the other types, with every second of distraction raising the chance for a collision.

It’s also worth noting that Glass does require some manual interaction, roughly equivalent to what your average specs-wearing driver might engage in just to keep their lenses in the right place. So since Glass is not purely hands-free, manual distraction could still happen.

Glass and the value of peripheral vision

There’s also the concern that Glass — while designed to sit above the users’ line of sight — could impinge on drivers’ peripheral vision. And this kind of vision is surprisingly useful while driving.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, peripheral vision plays 2 key roles:

  1. It helps drivers detect info that could affect safety, including road signs, hazards, and changes in traffic flow.
  2. It helps control the vehicle. When you look in the rearview mirror, you use your peripheral vision to watch the road ahead. And when your gaze is centered on the lane, peripheral vision helps keep you between the lane boundaries.

Limiting peripheral vision could therefore lead to:

  • Failing to react to a hazard coming from the far left or far right
  • Not heeding a stoplight suspended over an intersection
  • Weaving while negotiating a curve
  • Driving too close to parked cars

The jury’s in: Google Glass won’t end distracted driving

Despite the very real chance that Glass could curb 2 of the 3 distractions that plague drivers, it could also dramatically increase the risk of cognitive distraction, a powerful force in causing accidents. And when you add even the possibility of limited peripheral vision, it seems pretty clear that Google Glass isn’t the solution to ending distraction behind the wheel.

But, as always, we’re curious what you think. Let us know in the comments!

Related links

Will driving with Google Glass be outlawed in your state?
Possibilities and pitfalls: the Google Glass debate continues
4 surprising distracted driving facts (and some possible solutions)


Safe and smart | Smart technology


about John

John Moore Williams has spent his writing career providing advice on everything from proper septic system care to where to eat in Nice (and, during his tenure at Esurance, how to find the right insurance coverages). An avid descriptive grammarian, he encourages you to end sentences with prepositions and to split infinitives whenever possible.