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Driven to distraction: Google Glass peril

2014-09-26 09:03

DEEMED UNSAFE: Google co-founder Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass(es?) at a Bill-signing for driverless cars at Google HQ in California. The eyewear has been proved unsafe to use while driving. Image: AP / Eric Risberg

ORLANDO, Florida – What is claimed to be the first scientific study of driving while texting with Google Glass has found that the hands-free eyewear was no safer to use while driving than a smartphone.

Psychological researcher Ben Sawyer from the University of Central Florida in the US said: "When you look at how fast people react to an unexpected traffic event - how fast they slam on their brakes - we didn't find a statistically significant difference between Google Glass and smartphones."

Google Glass users can send text messages using voice transcription technology as well as head commands.

LESS DISTRACTION

The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that 44 states have banned texting while driving because studies have shown that doing so doubles the risk of a crashes or close shave.

LegiScan, a US legislative data service, reports that so far in 2014 eight states have considered laws that also ban drivers from using Google Glass and other head-mounted computers or displays.

Sawyer said Google Glass proponents had claimed – Sawyer says erroneously - that the wearable device delivers information with less distraction because drivers' eyes remain on the road.

He added: "Looking does not necessarily mean you are seeing. Thought processes remain affected.”

Google, a California-based Internet services and products company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About 40 people took part in the study. They sent text about an arithmetic problem via Google Glass or a smartphone while driving in a simulator. In the process, they were confronted with a car braking suddenly in front of them.

LEVELS OF CONFIDENCE

After a near-collision in the simulator, Sawyer said the texters demonstrated different levels of confidence in their ability to safely text and drive. Smartphone users created more space than Google Glass users between their car and the car ahead.

Sawyer said Google Glass offered one slight advantage: users recovered from the near-accident quicker, getting back up to speed on the road faster than smartphone users. He claimed that difference suggested future technological advances might be able to lessen distraction problems.

That, he said, was critical for certain drivers whose safety could depend on information obtained on the road, including military and emergency personnel.

"You can tell a teenager to stay off the phone when driving,” he added, “but it's much harder to tell a person in a military or emergency services context.”

Among Sawyers collaborators on the study were a US Air Force psychologist and an engineer. The team expects its report to be published in a future issue of the journal Human Factors.

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