Some eight U.S. states are considering regulation of Google Glass,
a tiny computer screen mounted in the corner of an eyeglass frame.
Law enforcement and other groups are concerned that drivers wearing
the devices will pay more attention to their email than the road,
causing serious accidents.
So-called wearables such as Google Glass, smart watches and
sophisticated health devices may represent the next big shift in
technology, just as smartphones evolved from personal computers, and
enthusiasts predict billion-dollar markets. Google, which is still
testing Glass, charges $1,500 per pair.
Google Inc has deployed lobbyists to persuade elected officials in
Illinois, Delaware and Missouri that it is not necessary to restrict
use of Google Glass behind the wheel, according to state lobbying
disclosure records and interviews conducted by Reuters.
Legislators who introduced similar bills this year in three other
states, New York, Maryland and West Virginia, say they have not yet
been contacted by Google. Officials in New Jersey and Wyoming did
not respond to inquiries from Reuters.
Courts are just beginning to consider the matter. Last month in San
Diego, for instance, a woman's traffic ticket for wearing Google
Glass behind the wheel was dismissed because there was no proof the
device was operating at the time.
Google's main point to legislators is that regulation would be
premature because Google Glass is not yet widely available, the
state elected officials say.
Illinois state Senator Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat who
introduced a Google Glass restriction bill in December, responded
that it was clear the merchandise was heading for the broader
public. "Who are they fooling?"
Silverstein said he recently met with Google lobbyists trying to
"kill" the bill, a position Silverstein suggested is driven by
market considerations for the company.
State records show the month after Silverstein introduced his bill,
Google retained John Borovicka, a former political director for
President Obama's former chief of staff and current Chicago Mayor
Rahm Emanuel. Borovicka visited Silverstein to lobby against the
legislation, the state senator said.
Borovicka did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked about its lobbying efforts, Google said tech issues are a big
part of current policy discussions in the states. "We think it is
important to be part of those discussions," the company said in a
Google has been scheduling Glass demonstrations across the country
in an effort to educate the public on how the technology works.
"While Glass is currently in the hands of a small group of
Explorers," the company said, "we find that when people try it for
themselves they better understand the underlying principle that it's
not meant to distract but rather connect people more with the world
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PERSUADING THE POWERFUL
Campaigns against distracted driving have gained significant
traction in the United States. In 2012, over 3,000 people died due
to crashes where texting or other activities were in play, according
to Distraction.gov, a U.S. government web site devoted to the issue.
Delaware state Rep. Joseph Miro was one of the primary sponsors of a
bill that banned texting while driving, and he also introduced
legislation targeting Google Glass. So far, no states have passed
Google Glass restrictions.
"I'm not against Google or Google Glass. It may have a place in
society," said Miro, a Republican. "My issue is that while you are
driving, you should have nothing that is going to impede the
concentration of the driver."
According to Miro, a Google representative lobbied against the bill
by forwarding a news article about the San Diego court case, as an
attempt to show that the courts are taking a dim view towards
prosecutions. His bill passed committee and could receive a floor
vote this spring, Miro said.
Google's position is at odds with groups like the Delaware
Developmental Disabilities Council, which in a letter last year said
it supported restrictions on drivers' use of headsets such as Google
Glass, believing it will lead to more accidents, causing more spinal
cord and traumatic brain injuries.
Google advises people engaged in Glass field tests to abide by state
laws that limit use of mobile devices while driving.
"Above all, even when you're following the law, don't hurt yourself
or others by failing to pay attention to the road," the company said
in guidance posted online.
Not all legislators pushing a Google Glass restriction have been
visited by the company, however. In West Virginia, House of
Delegates member Gary Howell, a Republican, said he has heard from
out-of-state Google Glass users opposed to the bill but not from the
For Maryland House of Delegates member Benjamin Kramer, the San
Diego traffic case shows a need for clear state laws. When a driver
is pulled over, it will always be extremely difficult for law
enforcement to prove whether Google Glass had been operating, said
Kramer, a Democrat.
"The way to get around it is just to prohibit them altogether," he
(Reporting by Dan Levine; editing by Ken Wills)
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