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Prof. Karel Brookhuis: ‘Using Google Glass in traffic can endanger lives’

25 September 2013

Google claims that it’s the gadget of the future: Google Glass. As far as the makers are concerned, everyone will be walking around wearing their invention in just a couple of years. And of course it’s perfectly possible that the sight of people walking around with this glass will soon be as common as seeing people walking down the street with a mobile phone pressed firmly to their ear. Although certainly a great new invention, says traffic psychologist Karel Brookhuis from the University of Groningen, it would be sensible to start thinking about its impact behind the wheel. ‘Google Glass can be particularly dangerous if used by young people when driving.’

Karel Brookhuis
Karel Brookhuis

Although it is not yet on the market, Google says that new apps for Google Glass are being developed every single day. Consider a version of Google Maps that displays a map or even a navigation system in the corner of your eye all the time. Brookhuis has to admit that this is obviously fantastic. ‘You won’t need a separate navigation system and you can just keep chatting to your friends while you bike or drive from A to B. But is it safe to drive down a busy road with Google Glass? Of course not!’

Young victims

Brookhuis predicts that young people will be the main victims. ‘You see it now on the streets: they hear a ping on their smartphone, and they respond immediately. Even if they’ve just got on the bike. And of course young people will probably be the first group to embrace a gadget like Google Glass.’

Visual distraction is a disaster

‘Various academic publications have already reported the disastrous consequences of using a smartphone while cycling’, continues Brookhuis. ‘People who send text messages or make calls while riding a bike simply don’t notice relevant things going on around them and are less able to steer straight. Furthermore, visual distractions reduce visual awareness in traffic situations and have already been proved to be one of the main causes of accidents.’

Almost impossible to ignore

‘Using Google Glass will only make this worse’, says Brookhuis. ‘The smartphone already demands a lot of attention from users, but Google Glass is almost impossible to ignore as it projects information onto the periphery of your vision. That tiny screen in the right-hand corner of the glass will be even more distracting than their smartphone.’

‘You can see it in Google’s own promotion films’, says Brookhuis. ‘There’s one young woman in particular whose eyes are constantly drawn upwards to the information at the top of her glass. She looks right into that corner. Quite a feat on your bike, when you should be concentrating on what’s straight ahead of you. And of course the messages you receive demand time and attention. The longer you take your eyes off the road, the greater the risk of an accident.’

Little point in banning Google Glass

So what can be done? Simply banning Google Glass in traffic is not the solution, according to Brookhuis. ‘The police can just about enforce the ban on using handsets in the car. But you could hardly expect them stop everyone using a phone or Google Glass on the bike. That would be fighting a losing battle.’

Responsibility and information

Brookhuis favours the German approach to the maximum speed on motorways. ‘Although you're allowed to drive faster than 130 kilometres per hour, if you cause an accident while driving at high speed, you are personally responsible and liable for the consequences.’ He also thinks that the government should take responsibility by providing information. ‘It’s a wonderful gadget, but we must show users just how dangerous it can be.’

Curriculum Vitae

Karel Brookhuis (1950) studied experimental psychology at the University of Groningen. He was awarded a PhD in 1989 for research into information processing in brain waves. He then turned his attention to traffic psychology and became a behavioural researcher in the area of traffic and transport for the former Traffic Study Centre at the University of Groningen. Brookhuis became a Professor of Psychology after this institute was disbanded. He has also worked as a professor at Delft University of Technology since 2001.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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