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Can You Wear the Apple Vision Pro While Driving?

Reality is calling, and it wants to know if extended reality headsets can be used while driving. While an obvious ‘no’ for most people, early adopters are keen for an answer as new technology butts heads with existing laws. 

Apple’s new high-end mixed reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro, was released in early February 2024. Starting at $3,500, this headset from the tech titan seeks to set a new standard in a competitive ‘extended reality field.’  As the power of extended reality computing progresses, new use cases will appear, perhaps before lawmakers are ready. 

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently posted to X a video of a cyber truck driver wearing an Apple Vision Pro on the highway. Secretary Buttigieg reminded everyone that drivers must be “fully engaged in the driving task.” Although using a Vision Pro while driving is seemingly illegal, the mixed reality nature of the headset poses unique questions. 

Users can drive while using the Vision Pro because of its mixed reality capabilities, which overlay virtual elements onto the users' actual surroundings instead of viewing an entirely virtual environment.  

It's important to distinguish between augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality. To complicate the matter further, Apple calls the Vision Pro a spatial computing headset. These terms fall under the general technology of extended reality. The Government Accountability Office posted this graphic to define extended reality terms:

Understanding the nuances of this technology will help lawmakers draft legislation that protects the public without stifling innovation. An outright ban on the use of extended reality while driving may prevent lifesaving driving assistance technologies from being developed. At the very least, lawmakers should revisit these laws once the technology sufficiently progresses.

Legal Implications

California drivers using the Vision Pro while operating their cars might face liability from California Vehicle Code distracted driving and reckless driving statutes. 

Distracted Driving: “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking and is used in that manner while driving.” Cal. Veh. Code § 23123(a) 

Reckless Driving: “A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.” Cal. Veh. Code § 23103(a)

The Vision Pro has texting and calling capabilities, which are controlled semi-hands-free. Although Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, is available for hands-free control of some features, users move their hands to point and pinch their fingers to select, effectively making their hands the remote. Users are also shown virtual overlays, which may block their view. 

Apple may also face liability for drivers using the Vision Pro while driving. Generally, manufacturers and sellers of goods cannot be held liable for injury caused by their products unless a plaintiff can show some defect. If a plaintiff establishes that a product is defective, the manufacturer and seller may be held jointly, severally, and more importantly, strictly liable for the injury. Most jurisdictions recognize three general types of defect: design defect, manufacturing defect, and instructions or warning defect. There is no indication that features of the Vision Pro are designed specifically for driving. 

Apple explicitly discourages using the Vision Pro while behind the wheel on their website. This warning should shield Apple from liability, right? Not necessarily. Plaintiffs can prevail on a defective warning theory if they show the court that the warning was inadequate and the harm could have been avoided with a more specific warning. The Third Restatement of Torts says that  “a product has a defective warning when the foreseeable risk of harm could have been reduced or avoided by providing reasonable instructions and warnings, and the omission renders the product not reasonably safe.” Moreover, warnings that fail to mention the consequences of reasonably foreseeable misuse may make the warning inadequate. 

To determine whether the warning provided by Apple’s website is adequate, we must look to the language used by the site. “Never use Apple Vision Pro while operating a moving vehicle, bicycle, heavy machinery, or in any other situations requiring attention to safety.” This warning, though clear and straightforward, doesn’t mention any consequences associated with driving while using the Vision Pro. Therefore, one could make the argument that the warning is inadequate.

However many courts hold the rational view that if the risk is so obvious that it does not need mentioning, why hold product makers strictly liable for the user’s brazen misuse? Under this more practical approach, Apple’s warning is probably adequate. The risks inherent to driving are clear to all who have a driver license and the average, reasonable consumer could easily ascertain that wearing the Vision Pro while driving is extremely dangerous. Given that the warning could have easily adopted language like “using Vision Pro while driving can cause serious injury or even death”, and chose not to, it appears Apple understands that the common sense implication is palpable enough to absolve it of liability. Therefore, it's most likely that if someone were to injure another person, Apple would have very limited liability. 

Business implications 

In the extended reality (XR) space, Meta has firmly established itself as a key player, consolidating a substantial market share with popular devices such as the Oculus Rift and Quest series. The company's strategic investments in XR technology and content have highlighted its commitment to becoming a leader in the immersive computing domain. 

Apple has recently tried its hand in the XR market, unveiling its ambitious Apple Vision Pro, capitalizing on its ecosystem and design prowess to give itself a foothold in a market heavily dominated by Meta. The entrance of Apple into XR products has intensified the competition between these tech giants, fostering a climate of innovation and continued enhancement in VR hardware and experiences. Consequently, consumers stand to benefit from an ever-growing range of options in the XR market.

Over the past few years, the XR space has undergone a remarkable evolution, fueled by technological advancements, reduced hardware costs, and a rising enthusiasm for immersive experiences. This growth has not been confined to a single industry but rather has spanned several diverse sectors, including gaming, education, healthcare, and enterprise solutions. The promising trajectory of the XR space is underlined by ongoing developments in hardware capabilities, advancements in content creation, and expanding adoption across various industries. As XR technology continues to progress, it is poised to become more accessible, featuring improved user interfaces, higher-resolution displays, and a broader array of applications. Extended reality is reshaping how we work, learn, and entertain ourselves, which in turn signals a strong upward trajectory for the industry in the years to come. 

As of 2023, the U.S. boasts 65.9 million VR users, contributing to a global estimate of 171 million VR users. These figures indicate a growing user base, with projections suggesting continued adoption of XR systems. Projections have further noted that by 2024, the prevalence of mobile augmented reality (AR) user devices should reach a staggering 1.7 billion, underscoring the significance of immersive technologies on a global scale.

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.


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