Friday, February 22, 2013

Beware of geeks bearing gifts

Google's heavily touted 'augmented reality' glasses will augment the toll taken, on motorcyclists, by distracted drivers.

Drivers distracted by their cell phones already kill more people, every year, than died in 9/11. Yet instead of declaring war on distracted driving, most states pass softball 'hands-free' legislation in the face of overwhelming evidence that hands-free phones are no safer than the regular kind.

Of course, the vast majority of accidents caused by Google's glasses (like the accidents caused by cell phone use and texting) will be between car drivers. But it's a motorcycle issue because when car drivers hit motorcyclists, the bikers are 40 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than when car drivers hit other car drivers. So, although we represent a tiny percentage of all accidents, we represent a large percentage of all deaths.

Now, Google's promising to exponentially raise the level of distraction with augmented reality glasses that will present drivers with an even more problematic visual (as opposed to audio) stimulus.

Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean Google won't kill 100 motorcyclists or more in the first few years of this technological 'advance'.

Some Google apologists may equate these glasses to heads-up displays used, for example, in jet aircraft. In fact, I tested a prototype helmet-mounted heads-up display for motorcyclists a few years ago, while racing at Pikes Peak. I have no problem with such displays, but they are a totally different deal.

We're going to see more heads-up displays, for car drivers and motorcyclists, in the coming years. But those displays will present information that is currently presented on the dashboard. So drivers (and riders) will be able to see information like speed, revs, fuel level, etc, without glancing down. I'm fine with that because as it stands, that information is not particularly distracting. The reason it's not distracting is that drivers choose the moments to glance down, and they instinctively choose moments when they have the bandwidth and time to do so.

Augmented reality glasses are going to present information unpredictably, the way your text messages, emails, and posts to your Facebook timeline currently appear.

For years, I've told new motorcyclists to make eye contact with drivers. If you're approaching someone stopped at a cross street, don't assume they see you unless you can see their eyes. But soon, seeing their eyes will be no guarantee that their mental focus is, in fact, on that frame in their peripheral vision, where a friend has just sent them another hilarious video of a cat jumping into a cardboard box.

Thanks, Google.


  1. Great write up & insight. One can only hope the promise of self-driving cars comes through before tech gizmos make us all oblivious morons.

  2. As a life long motorcyclist (30 plus years) this distracted driving is really starting to get to me. Maybe it's time to go back to riding enduros and stay the hell off the highways.

  3. I would always stay off the highway on a motorcycle because of merging vehicles that won't see you. Not to offend, but a wise man would never do such a thing- only a foolish man.