Backmarker: The New Road Hazard

February 20, 2014
Mark Gardiner
Mark Gardiner
Contributing Editor|Articles|Articles RSS

In 2001, Mark Gardiner gave up his career in advertising, and moved to the Isle of Man to live out his childhood dream of racing in the TT. After returning to the U.S., he wrote a memoir of that experience, Riding Man, which is now in development as a feature film. His column, Backmarker, looks at everything from the motorcycle industry as a whole to intensely personal 'inside stories.'

Motorcycle accidents happen to the best of us, even without the have to contend with the wildcard of distracted drivers…

A New Road Hazard: Glassholes

Emily Post, America’s doyenne of manners and etiquette died in 1960. Judging from American pop culture after 1960, I can only assume that, if she’s up there somewhere watching, she’s glad she’s dead.

Still, in the absence of a universally acknowledged arbiter of style, Google has written its own guidelines for the use of Google Glass. Google’s helpful list of Do’s and Don’ts includes, for example, do ask for permission before turning on the camera and recording other people, and “don’t be creepy or rude (aka, a “Glasshole”).”

Yes, even Google itself acknowledges the whole ‘glasshole’ thing.

But Google’s list of Don’ts does not include, don’t use Glass while driving.

That’s pretty surprising, because I’m pretty sure that the masters of search could, if they wanted to do so, turn up some pretty damning statistics about the dangers of distracted driving. According to the NHTSA more than 3000 people are killed every year in distracted driving crashes. You’d think that in response, the US Government would bear down hard on Nokia, Apple, Verizon, T-Mobile, and their ilk.

But no, the cell phone industry made a nifty end run around distracted driving restrictions by preemptively getting their pet legislators to focus on ‘hands-free’ laws. Basically, they’ve convinced lawmakers that the problem is drivers holding their phones and not their steering wheels.

In this photo from Cecilia Abadies public Google+ profile you can see her selfie. Note that Google put the electronics on the right side of the glasses  which will make it harder for motorcyclists to tell whether the driver beside them is watching the road or Pornhub.
In this photo from Cecilia Abadie’s public Google+ profile you can see her selfie. Note that Google put the electronics on the right side of the glasses, which will make it harder for motorcyclists to tell whether the driver beside them is watching the road or Pornhub.

That’s bullshit because there’s a ton of empirical research to prove that the distraction is mainly an attention problem, not a manual problem. (After all, there are lots of handicapped drivers who only have one hand, yet they remain perfectly competent drivers.)

Why is this a motorcycle issue? Well, we all know that fender-bender car accidents are common, but it’s very rare to have a femur-bender motorcycle accident. Femurs don’t bend; they break. That’s why per passenger-mile, motorcyclists are 10 times more likely to be injured than car drivers. But wait, it gets worse: We’re 30 to 40 times more likely to be killed. And wait again, because it gets still worse: Those stats are even more lopsided if you consider only two-vehicle crashes, i.e., the type of crash caused by a distracted car driver hitting a motorcyclist.

So distracted drivers are usually just a major inconvenience for car drivers, but they’re a threat to motorcyclists’ lives and limbs.

Ironically, hands-free phones make the roads more dangerous, not less dangerous, for motorcyclists. In the absence of seat belts and deformable crash structures, our best defense is to identify and avoid threats presented by car drivers. In that sense, we’re safer if, as we approach cars, we can see that the driver’s on the phone. A driver holding his or her phone to their head immediately raises a red flag. Or at least, it should; if you’re not tracking that behavior when you’re riding, you need to get some advanced training, or you’re going to get killed.

When Google Glass was announced, the first thing I thought was, “Great, another way for some idiot cage driver to take me out.”

I had a brief reprieve from that anxiety when, last October, a San Diego-county based CHP officer cited a driver, Cecilia Abadie, for distracted driving after he pulled her over on Interstate 15. (It’s not that often that I find myself fist-pumping and silently cheering the Highway Patrol, but it happens.)

In that case, CHP officer Keith Odle was patrolling a built-up area of I-15 just south of Miramar Air Base (of Top Gun fame.) He noticed Abadie’s Prius (don’t get me started) approaching him from behind at about 85 miles an hour. She didn’t slow down as she passed his marked patrol car.

Abadie also posted this photo of her ticket to Google+. In the
comments below she wrote, “I don’t use it much while driving,”
i.e., she does use it. One lawyer in her circle added, “The
problem here seems to be that there is no way he could know
what was displayed at the time. That’s probably your best

After Odle pulled her over, he realized that she was wearing Google glasses. “It was covering half her right eye,” he said later in court.

He had the presence of mind to add a violation of California Vehicle Code Section 27602 to her speeding ticket. That section specifies that drivers can’t view television or video signals while driving, which is a step in the right direction although the fine maxes out at $300.

Unfortunately for motorcyclists, and others who would prefer not to be killed by onrushing vehicles, Abadie’s case was recently thrown out. Her defense was that the glasses were in ‘sleep’ mode. Maybe she was in sleep mode, too. That would explain her blowing by a marked cop car at 85.

Abadie was represented by a San Diego attorney named William Concidine, who seems to specialize in DUI cases. You can be sure that if she’d gone to trial, Google would have reassembled O.J. Simpson’s dream team to get her off. (As it was, when she appeared with Concidine at a press briefing after her case was dismissed—yes, smugly wearing her Google glasses—she was wearing a dark T-shirt emblazoned with the message “less is more”. My guess is that slogan was the work of some Google PR flunky, carefully trying to position this case as the California nanny state, limiting freedom.)

Although we can still hope that a more reasonable precedent is set, as of now it looks as if drivers will be free to use Google glasses to do things like read email and watch porn while negotiating California’s freeways. When a glasshole takes out the first motorcyclist—and it’s a case of when, not if—the onus will be on the biker’s estate to establish that the glasses were actually in use. Maybe people ticketed for using handheld cell phones in ‘hands-free’ states like California can argue, “I was just holding the phone to my head, I wasn’t talking” and get off those charges, too.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (, Verizon and Google spent a combined $30 million or so lobbying for favorable legislation last year. So don’t expect any intelligent proactive legislation restricting the use of wearable devices while driving, even though the technology could easily be adapted in ways that would greatly reduce distraction while driving.

“I didn’t see you,” is already an absolute cliché excuse when car drivers pull out of side roads or turn left across the path of motorcyclists. Unless those drivers are legally blind, the issue isn’t that they don’t see us, it’s that they don’t notice us. My advice to you is, now you’ve got one more thing to notice: Is that oncoming driver a glasshole?