CHICAGO — Google Glass isn't even on the market yet, but state Sen. Ira Silverstein wants to ban users from wearing the high tech eyewear while behind the wheel.
In what could be the first such law in the nation, Silverstein has introduced SB2632, which states "a person may not operate a motor vehicle while wearing a mobile computing headset." The bill is currently before the Senate Transportation Committee.
Google Glass is billed as mobile computing eyeglasses which the company released to a few thousand "Glass Explorers" for beta testing early in 2013. An online demo simulating the field of view for users shows a small window in the upper right which can feature a picture, video or text message, among other displays. The Internet-connected glasses can be controlled by voice or by moving your head.
The $1,500 headsets are tentatively scheduled to be released to the public by the end of 2014.
Although Silverstein (D-Chicago) has not tried the eyewear, he says from his research he believes wearing the glasses is similar to texting while driving or using a handheld mobile phone while driving. Illinois banned texting while driving several years ago and a law prohibiting using a cell phone without a hands free device went into effect Jan. 1.
"This is pure distracted driving," said Silverstein. "This affects our peripheral vision which we use to drive."
Silverstein says after hearing about Google Glass, he began looking into the new technology and felt it posed a danger if used while driving.
"There are a lot of questions about the safety of wearing these glasses while driving," Silverstein said. "I thought I'd tackle it head on and try to make it illegal."
Google, which is facing potential legal bans in a handful of other states including New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia, believes the technology is safe and that legislators need to try it out before they enact laws prohibiting its use while driving.
"Technology issues are a big part of the current policy discussion in individual states and we think it is important to be part of those discussions," a Google spokeswoman said via e-mail. "While Glass is currently in the hands of a small group of Explorers, 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 around them."
One Glass user says Silverstein's bill is completely off base.
"It makes absolutely no sense," said Jake Steinerman, of Midland, Mich. "I drive with it all the time. l don't find it distracting at all. It's less distracting then a phone. I bet 90 percent of those legislators have never seen a pair of Google Glass, let alone worn one."
Steinerman said his vision is not blocked or impaired while wearing the glasses.
"With Glass, it's in your field of view, but out of your line of sight," he explained. "It doesn't block your front view, rear view or side view. It's much less distracting then looking down to check the speedometer on your dash or a GPS unit."
Steinerman believes Google Glass could actually be a tool to improve driver safety.
He's part of a trio of Glass software developers who have created an app called Drive Safe, which uses sensors embedded in the headset to tell if drivers are falling asleep at the wheel, then alerts them and guides them to the closest rest area using GPS. The group is also working on enhancements that would detect if the Glass user was engaging in distracted driving behavior.
"This is a big issue today," said Steinerman. "There are a lot of injuries or deaths from falling asleep at the wheel. This technology can be used to enhance driver safety."
Other traffic safety groups and agencies have not taken positions yet on how Google's new technology will affect traffic safety.
"We don't have any official position on Google glasses per se," said Kara Maek, a spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a national organization which represents state transportation and traffic safety agencies. "Technology changes faster than the law can keep up."
Closer to home, the Illinois Department of Transportation is also staying on the sidelines in the debate.
"IDOT is neutral on this bill," said IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin. "IDOT will continue to research the issue and work with law enforcement to determine if such technology is a distraction or an aid to driving."
While Silverstein is the bill's sole sponsor, he says other senators are curious about it.
"Lots of colleagues are interested and want to learn more," he says.
Silverstein said he met recently with a lobbyist for Google, who asked to set up a demo of Google Glass for him and his colleagues in Springfield.
So far, Silverstein doesn't seem open to Google's efforts to sway him.
"This is public safety versus profit," he said.