Distracted driving is the leading cause of car and truck accidents that result in injuries and deaths. Everything from texting with a smartphone to applying makeup and using an electric shaver leads to dozens of serious accidents each day in North Carolina (NC).
Recognizing this, state and federal lawmakers have strengthened regulations aimed at curbing the myriad distractions that take drivers’ minds and eyes off the road. Most recently, North Carolina’s distracted driving law was updated to make texting a primary offense for all drivers and to ban cell phone use by all bus operators and drivers younger than 18. That means people can be ticketed just for these reasons even if they do not also get cited for other traffic violations.
At the federal level, President Obama and the Pentagon have made use of any electronic device behind the wheel except for emergency and work-related reasons off limits. But do any of these restrictions extend to Goggle Glass?
The wearable device combines many of the features and functions of a smartphone and tablet, then makes the display immediately visible in the wearer’s line of sight. Early users have claimed that Google Glass is less distracting than other types of electronic devices such as dashboard or handheld GPS systems, but legislators in many localities are pushing to add the headsets to the list of ticketable distractors.
William & Mary Law School professor Adam Gershowitz, in a working paper titled “Google Glass While Driving,” argues that such actions cannot come quickly enough:
Legislatures should move briskly to draft a clear prohibition on Google Glass while driving. States should ban not just the use of Glass but also “wearing” the device while driving. And they should define the types of devices and the type of prohibited activity very broadly to ensure that any ban will at least have a chance of keeping pace with rapidly advancing technology.
The problem Gershowitz identifies is the ease with which people stopped for driving negligently or recklessly while wearing Google Glass could avoid penalties by claiming they were using the devices “for lawful functions — such as phone calls or GPS directions — that are allowed under texting while driving statutes.”
I agree with that assessment. As a personal injury and wrongful death attorney who practices in both North Carolina and Virginia, I see each day the real and irreversible harm distracted drivers inflict on others. The worst thing I can imagine is a device that both physically blocks a driver’s vision and delivers all the distractions of more-traditional technologies. This seems a particular problem for commercial drivers who depend on traveling to unfamiliar locations and remaining in constant communication for their livelihoods, such as taxi drivers, Uber contractors and tractor-trailer drivers.
Technically, no pun intended, Google Glass use behind the wheel already violates North Carolina traffic laws. Since that prohibition is likely unenforceable in practice, I urge lawmakers to act soon to reduce this obvious risk.