Proposed West Virginia Google Glass Ban Faces Uphill Battle


A proposed ban on head-mounted displays such as Google Glass is facing a lack of support in the West Virginia political system

Google Glass users won’t have to worry any time soon about taking the devices off if they drive through West Virginia, because a proposed ban on driving while wearing such devices is going nowhere fast in the state’s House of Delegates.

The proposed ban on driving while wearing head-mounted displays was introduced in the state’s legislature recently by Gary Howell, a Republican state representative in West Virginia’s 56th district.

Driver distraction

Howell’s main concern with the devices is that they create safety issues such as driver distraction, especially for younger, less-experienced drivers who might be among the users most likely to buy such technology. However, the bill is having a tough time in this legislative session.

It would have to go through a Roads and Transportation Committee meeting and then be read three times on the House floor on three consecutive days soon to be considered for a vote before the House’s members, Howell told eWEEK in an email.

“It is most likely dead” for this year, Howell wrote.

Google-Glass-MiddleThe bill would have to clear a lot of legislative hurdles to make it to what is called “cross-over day”, which is when all proposed bills must be passed out of their House of origin for consideration as laws.

“From that point on until the end of the 2013 session on 13 April, the House will only be working on Senate bills and vice versa,” which makes its consideration by the House this year unlikely, he wrote.

Howell created his proposed bill after he read news stories about Google Glass and realised that they are related to other handheld electronic devices that were banned from use by drivers under a law enacted last year. The new problem with devices such as Google Glass is that last year’s law didn’t specifically address the use of head-mounted displays, which would potentially allow their unregulated use.

Legal loophole

Because Google Glass and similar competitive products would likely be seen as hands-free devices, they’d initially be allowed under the new law, he said. That presents a problem because of their unique potential to be a distraction while driving because of their head-mounted displays that can display information in front of a user’s eyes, he said.

Howell said he remains undaunted, however, by the lack of support for his proposed bill at this time.

“I will be introducing a study resolution, which means we will study the effects of driving with a head-mounted display over the interim between sessions,” he wrote. “We meet each month for three days a month and have various hearings” in which experts on the technology will be asked to testify and answer questions. “If we do that, I would like to invite Google to provide a demonstration and explain if they will have some type of feature that will turn off everything” that could distract drivers who are wearing the devices.

Howell conceded that some features of Google Glass, such as its built-in GPS capabilities, “could be helpful [while] driving”.

When asked if Google would consider testifying at such a hearing, a Google spokesman told eWEEK on 28 March that “we aren’t going to speculate about our actions, though as noted previously, we do welcome feedback and conversation about these important issues”.

Interestingly, it is possible that a technical feature could be introduced at some point that could shut off services such as web surfing on Google Glass, based on information and descriptions about Google Glass that was disclosed by the search engine giant in its US patent application.

Car controls

According to that application, it is possible that the glasses “may detect a data pattern in incoming audio data that is characteristic of car engine noise (and possibly characteristic of a particular type of car, such as the type of car owned or registered to the wearer)”, the application states.

That information could be interpreted by the device “as an indication that the wearer is in a car and responsively launch a navigation system or mapping application in the multimode input field”. With that in mind, Google might be able to also include some kind of controls that would limit distractions for drivers while allowing them to use Glass while operating a motor vehicle.

The proposed West Virginia law would have a fine of $100 (£66) for a first offence, and $200 to $300 fines for subsequent offenses.

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.

Next-generation device

Even though Google Glass has yet to hit the market, rumours of the next generation of the product already started showing up in February.

The initial reports, based on a new patent application, call for version 2 to work with both of the wearer’s eyes using specialised lasers that would provide a dual-eye image, rather than the original version’s one-eye display.

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Originally published on eWeek.

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