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Be Evil: Driving While Using Google Glass Should Be Legal, Says Google

A San Diego woman had her distracted driving ticket overturned last month because a judge rules police couldn't prove her Google Glasses were on while she was driving. Photo: San Diego Union Tribune

A San Diego woman had her distracted driving ticket overturned last month because a judge ruled police couldn’t prove her Google Glass device was on while she was driving. Photo: San Diego Union Tribune

Google Glass: Buying one will set you back $1,500. It makes even the most attractive people look ridiculous. It may or may not be the future of mobile technology.

A handful of states are trying to get out ahead of any risk this product might present to public safety. Bills are bubbling up in eight states would ban the use of Google Glass while driving.

Meanwhile, Google (corporate motto: “Don’t be evil“) is actively lobbying against such legislation in Illinois, Delaware, and Missouri. In Illinois, according to Reuters, Google has hired Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former political director, John Borovicka, to try to defeat the measure. The Illinois legislature is expected to vote on it this spring.

California courts have already seen a case involving Google Glass. Last month a San Diego woman’s distracted driving ticket was overturned because a judge ruled that police couldn’t prove the device was on at the time.

Google has been arguing that legislation preventing the use of the technology while driving would be premature, since there are a limited number in circulation, Reuters reports. There are about 10,000 Google Glass devices being tested nationwide and they will likely start being sold to the general public sometime this year.

But regardless of how many Google Glass units are out there, the science on distracted driving is clear. Thousands of people are killed each year in the U.S. because of distracted drivers. People can’t safely use hands-free devices while driving — the human brain just isn’t wired for multi-tasking. So why should states put lives at risk by letting people use internet-enabled eyewear while they’re behind the wheel of a multi-ton machine?

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Distracted Driving Is Claiming the Lives of More Pedestrians and Cyclists

Pedestrian fatalities attributed to distracted driving increased significantly between 2005 and 2010. Image: Public Health Reports

Total traffic deaths have declined nationwide in recent years, but the same has not held true for the most vulnerable people on the streets: cyclists and pedestrians. In 2011, 130 more pedestrians were killed in traffic than the year before, a 3 percent increase, while 54 more people lost their lives while biking, an increase of 8 percent. The same year, overall traffic deaths declined 2 percent.

As for the reasons why, good data has been scarce, but that hasn’t stopped major media from blaming victims for “drunk walking” or “distracted walking.” Now a new study published in Public Health Reports, the journal of the U.S. Public Health Service and the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, reveals that distracted driving — particularly driving while texting — partially explains the rising death toll.

A research team from the University of Nebraska Medical Center examined crash records from every fatal collision tracked by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 2005 and 2010. They found that the rate of bike and pedestrian fatalities in which distracted driving was listed as a factor increased sharply over that time period.

Pedestrian deaths attributable to distracted driving rose from 344 in 2005 to 500 in 2010, significantly faster than overall population growth. Annual bicyclist deaths caused by distracted driving rose from 56 to 73 over the same period. Together pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for about one in 10 traffic fatalities that resulted from distracted driving, researchers found.

Distracted driving was defined to include anything from tending to a child to tuning the radio or eating while driving. Cell phone use was a major culprit, cited by police in 18.6 percent of the distracted driving deaths involving pedestrians and cyclists.

“The problem is that pedestrians and cyclists have little protection on the roadways,” Fernando Wilson, an associate professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and one of the study’s authors, told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sponsor of the study. “Evidence suggests that separating non-motorized travel from motorized travel, through bike lanes or other redevelopment efforts, could greatly reduce deaths.”

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AAA: Hands-Free Devices Don’t Solve Distracted Driving Dangers

Researchers at the University of Utah and AAA found that using hands-free electronic devices and on-board technology can cause dangerous levels of driver distraction. Image: AAA

Distracted driving killed 3,331 people on American streets in 2011, yet car manufacturers continue to outdo each other to add more infotainment distractions in their vehicles. These systems are expected to increase five-fold by 2018, according to AAA. Carmakers seek to show their commitment to safety by making their distractions – onboard dinner reservation apps and social media, for example – hands-free. But a growing body of research indicates that there is no safe way to combine driving with tasks like dictating email or text messages.

AAA recently teamed up with experts at the University of Utah to conduct the most in-depth analysis to date of the impact of cognitive distractions on drivers’ performance. They found that some hands-free technologies, like voice-to-text email, can be far more dangerous than even handheld phone conversations. Unlike previous studies, they also found that conversations with passengers can be more distracting than those on the phone, but only if the passenger is kept unaware of what’s happening on the road.

The researchers had subjects first perform a series of eight tasks, ranging from nothing at all to usage of various electronic devices to something called OSPAN, or operation span, which sets the maximum demand the average adult brain can handle. For the OSPAN, the researchers gave subjects words and math problems to recall later, in the same order, as a way to “anchor the high end of the cognitive distraction scale developed by the research team,” according to AAA’s Jake Nelson.

The more mental energy an activity requires, the more it slows drivers' reaction time. Image: AAA

The subjects then performed these eight tasks while operating a driving simulator, and then while driving on residential streets in an “instrumented” vehicle that captures information about the driver’s eye movements and brain activity.

In each environment, researchers studied how the additional tasks added to subjects’ “cognitive workload” and diminished their eye movements. They found that as drivers devote more mental energy to other tasks in addition to driving, the less observant they become, and the more they fail to scan for roadway hazards.

This bolsters the conclusions of previous experiments: that when drivers are mentally distracted by some other task, they get tunnel vision. They keep their eyes fixed on the road in front of them to the exclusion of everything else — the rear-view mirror, side mirrors, and “safety critical roadside objects” and “cross traffic threats” — such as pedestrians.

The AAA study also found that greater “cognitive workloads” slow drivers’ reactions to events like a ball rolling in front of the car and a kid running out to catch it. (Reaction times were measured with the simulator, not the instrumented vehicle driving on real streets.)

The researchers conclude that hands-free communications can be significantly more distracting and dangerous for drivers to engage in than passive tasks like listening to music:

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Pretty Please: U.S. DOT Asks Carmakers to Limit Onboard Distractions

Is two seconds enough time for this guy to avoid hitting the child in front of his car? Image: Fast Lane

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s signature issue has been distracted driving. He’s spent the last four years amplifying the heartbreaking voices of those who have suffered the consequences of this highly dangerous habit. The stories of the needless loss of so many people, especially children and teens, are tragic.

Clearly, it’s time to take decisive action to stop distracted driving.

But apparently it’s not clear to everyone. Automakers have only upped the distraction ante, putting touch screens in their cars with more and more features — GPS, fuel efficiency monitoring, audio and climate controls, limitless apps, and finally, social media. How did we ever live without making dinner reservations or updating our Facebook status while driving?

And how do our anti-distraction heroes at U.S. DOT respond? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is issuing a short list of voluntary guidelines they’re asking carmakers to adopt, to discourage “the introduction of excessively distracting devices in vehicles.”

Remember the good old days, when drivers' only distractions were fiddling with the radio dial and telling kids they weren't there yet? Photo: Fast Lane

In LaHood’s words, they include:

  • Limiting — to 2 seconds at a time and 12 seconds total — the time drivers must take their eyes off the road to operate in-car technology;
  • Disabling texting, social media, and web browsing features unless a vehicle is stopped and in park; and
  • Disabling video-based calling and conferencing unless a vehicle is stopped and in park.

According to Distraction.gov, a project of U.S. DOT, the 4.6 seconds it takes to send or read a text message is long enough to drive the length of entire football field at 55 mph, and looking at your phone is like driving that football field blindfolded. “It’s extraordinarily dangerous,” the website says. But NHTSA’s two second rule still accepts the idea of drivers speeding down almost half a football field blindfolded.

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CDC: Americans Drive Distracted Waaaay More Than Brits

Adults aged 18–64 who said they had talked on their cell phone while driving in the past 30 days, by country. Image: CDC

If you’ve been on a U.S. street anytime in the past few years, it comes as no surprise to hear that way too many Americans are yammering away on their cell phones — or worse, OMG’ing and LOL’ing with their friends on text and email — while driving. A new report from the CDC — from their ”Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” — shows just how bad the American habit is.

Nine-year-old Erica Forney was killed by a distracted driver while riding her bike in 2008. Photo: Distraction.gov

The CDC looked at 2011 data on distracted driving rates in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States and found that people in the U.S. are by far the worst offenders. Of all the Europeans surveyed, the Portuguese most closely mirrored our dangerous ways.

More than two-thirds (68.7 percent) of U.S. adult drivers (aged 18–64) admitted in surveys to talking on their cell phones while driving at least once in the past 30 days. Almost a third (31.2 percent) admitted to reading or sending texts or e-mails while driving at least once during that time.

Our Portuguese counterparts had the highest rates in Europe for both of these behaviors – 59.4 percent said they’d talked on the phone and 31.3 percent had texted or emailed while driving in the past 30 days. But from there, the rates in Europe plummet. In the UK, just 20.5 percent admitted to talking while driving, and only 15.1 percent of Spaniards say they text and drive.

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High-Stakes Testing: A Lesson in Texting While Driving


Here’s a cool, funny, and genuinely effective public service announcement out of Belgium. According to Gizmodo, non-profit Responsible Young Drivers essentially pranked a bunch of people taking their drivers license exam. To pass, they were told, they’d have to show they could adequately send text messages while keeping control of the car.

The results, all caught on camera, strike an impressive balance. You’ll laugh at the skids, swerves and shrieks of the panicked test takers even while realizing that the flying cones could, outside the context of a YouTube clip, be someone’s child.

The power of the clip comes in part from how easy it is to identify with the drivers, who quickly understand that performing both tasks well is nearly impossible. “Honestly, I feel like an idiot who can’t drive,” says one, while another realizes: “People will die.”

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CBS 2 Reporter Files Dispatch on Pedestrian Deaths While Driving Distracted

The distracted drivers over at CBS 2 News have outdone themselves. Even when the topic turns to pedestrian fatalities and the script does a decent job of describing the problem, the genius producers who brought you “Mobile 2″ make their reporters file from a roving deathtrap with a satellite link.

Watch reporter Kathryn Brown struggle to form sentences as she drives down Nassau’s Hempstead Turnpike, informing viewers of the pedestrian death toll on… Hempstead Turnpike.

Next week on CBS 2: How dangerous is it to fire a crossbow in the middle of Times Square while blindfolded? We’ll find out!

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DOT Issues Voluntary Guidelines for Driver-Distracting Electronics Systems

Distracted driving has become one of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s banner issues under secretary Ray LaHood’s tenure, with agencies launching safety programs and awareness campaigns aimed at preventing the practice. Last week, LaHood stepped into new territory by recommending that cars be built to automatically disable potentially distracting electronic devices when in motion.

Ford's Sync system allows integration of many potentially distracting devices into the dashboard console. Image: U.S. DOT

The new guidelines would seem to be of special comfort to pedestrians, cyclists, and even motorcyclists who have long observed the trend of cars getting safer for their occupants but more dangerous for everyone else. “When automakers employ ‘Infotainment Systems Engineers,’ like Ford does,” says BikePortland’s Jonathan Maus, “that should raise a red flag.”

Automakers are scrambling to find newer and fancier ways for drivers to stay connected behind the wheel, ostensibly to meet consumer demand. At the most recent Consumer Electronics Expo, Mercedes-Benz debuted their in-dash system that supports some Facebook functions even while the car is in motion, in what Maus calls a “disturbing trend”:

Automakers, scared that their vehicles can’t compete with consumers’ growing adoration of smartphones and other devices, now offer all sorts of phone-like conveniences on-board. The result? More distraction, more crashes, more deaths and injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board had already recommended a set of anti-distracted driving measures, including outlawing the use of any electronic device — hands-on or hands-free — while driving. But the new guidelines, which are voluntary and unenforceable, represent only a cautious next step in making it harder to drive distracted. Gone is the ban on hands-free devices, for example, and the new rules would only apply to built-in electronics, leading some to expect that drivers would find after-market ways to stay connected.

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Pitchfork-Wielding Consumers Hold Auto Industry Hostage!

"What do we want? More of the same! When do we want it? Now!" Image: Untold Entertainment

It’s sad, really. Tremendous gains in vehicle fuel efficiency have been squandered, MIT’s Christopher Knittel demonstrates in a study published in the American Economic Review. Knittel’s analysis quantifies how, while automakers have applied meaningful fuel economy innovations over the past several decades, these have produced only modest gains in miles per gallon, because at the same time the companies inflated horsepower and vehicle size. As MIT’s press release put it:

Thus if Americans today were driving cars of the same size and power that were typical in 1980, the country’s fleet of autos would have jumped from an average of about 23 miles per gallon (mpg) to roughly 37 mpg, well above the current average of around 27 mpg. Instead, Knittel says, “Most of that technological progress has gone into [compensating for] weight and horsepower.”

Based on this history, Knittel rightly concludes that market forces cannot drive the social and environmental good of fuel efficiency; he supports an increase in the gas tax. Unfortunately, he goes on to perpetuate a convenient fallacy that has provided cover for an industry looking to evade regulation and avoid responsibility:

“I find little fault with the auto manufacturers, because there has been no incentive to put technologies into overall fuel economy,” Knittel says. “Firms are going to give consumers what they want, and if gas prices are low, consumers are going to want big, fast cars.”

In response to calls for less polluting or less dangerous vehicles, the auto industry has often depicted itself as hostage to a voracious, and quite imaginative, consumer mob that stands in the way of such progress. Apparently, car buyers expend great energy dreaming up spectacular new ideas for cars, which they then conspire to demand from the industry.

NHTSA should act swiftly and decisively on the plethora of distracting technologies being built into vehicles.

The truth is, consumers rarely want a product that they don’t know exists or that doesn’t exist yet. As marketing expert James Twitchell puts it, “In reality people often do not know what they want until they learn what others are consuming. Desire is contagious, just like the flu.” It isn’t until they see others wanting a product — in the media or in real life — that consumers start to want it.

Suburbanites across America were not collectively thunderstruck in the 1980s by the realization that living the good life meant clambering up into a giant vehicle. Instead, automakers, eager to sell more high-margin products, took advantage of regulatory loopholes to push bigger and bigger vehicles. They repositioned clunky trucks as “sport utility vehicles,” transforming them into symbols of wealth, leisure, and suburban family values. In ads, they implied that SUVs were safer by virtue of their heft and hammered on the need for capacious cargo space. The effort was so successful that despite the recession and outcry over gas prices, SUVs and SUV crossovers currently account for 31 percent of U.S. auto sales.

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Dislike? Mercedes-Benz Wants to Put Facebook in Your Dashboard

Earlier this week, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Mercedes-Benz USA unveiled “mbrace2,” an in-dashboard service that enables the use of Facebook, Yelp, and Google behind the wheel. The service will likely be available in all 2013 models.

Mercedes' mbrace2 system allows drivers to update their Facebook status while driving. Photo: PCWorld

Mbrace2 will be the latest entry in a growing list of built-in communications interfaces currently offered by major automakers. Ford, GM, BMW, and Kia all feature systems that allow drivers to “read” and “write” emails or text messages using voice commands, which distracted driving prevention group Focus Driven says doesn’t cut it as a safe alternative to hand-held devices. (Mercedes’ new system is operated by knob, not by voice.)

The move was almost inevitable, Facebook’s VP of Partnerships and Platform Marketing Dan Rose told Reuters:

“Now that cars have screens that are intelligent, you would expect that more and more car manufacturers will want to make those screens capable of allowing people to connect with their friends and take advantage of the social context that comes along with that,” Rose said in an interview.

“One of the core things that people do on their screens in the car is GPS navigation and the ability to see which of your friends are nearby is something we think will be really interesting for people.”

So where is the line between “really interesting” and “dangerous distraction”? After all, the announcement comes at a time when the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended a ban on the use of all portable electronic devices, GPS devices excepted, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has made the anti-distracted driving campaign something of a cornerstone issue for his department. So how will Mercedes’ new feature fare in the face of multiple public awareness campaigns and regulatory efforts aimed at combating distracted driving?

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