People are wearing Apple Vision Pro headsets while driving Teslas. Fuzzy distracted-driving laws suggest they can get away with it

Apple Vision Pro owners seem willing to pay thousands of dollars to not look at the world in front of them.

Since Apple Vision Pro’s Friday release across U.S. stores — with an eye-watering starting price of $3,500 — people have been spotted wearing their headsets courtside at NBA games, at the gym, on the subway, and crossing the street. At least two viral videos show people in the driver’s seat of a moving Tesla while still wearing the Apple Vision Pro headset, drawing criticism from government officials and other advocates for distraction-free driving.

“Driving while wearing a VR headset is reckless and disregards the safety of everyone on the road,”  a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesperson told Fortune in a statement. “All vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems require a fully attentive human driver performing the driving task and monitoring the surrounding environment at all times.”

The Apple Vision Pro user guide warns users to “never use Apple Vision Pro while operating a moving vehicle, bicycle, heavy machinery, or in any other situations requiring attention to safety.” 

Distracted driving in the U.S. is a growing problem. The NHTSA reported 3,522 deaths in 2021 — compared to 3,142 the year before, a 12% increase — from distracted driving, or “any activity that diverts attention from driving” like texting, eating, or fiddling with your in-car entertainment. These accidents account for between 8-9% of car-related deaths in the U.S. 

Cars with self-driving features have dangers of their own. Tesla recalled 2 million vehicles in December due to issues with the self-driving features, and U.S. safety regulators have investigated 1,000 Tesla Autopilot-related accidents, 40 of which were fatal.

While there isn’t comprehensive evidence on the prevalence of distracted driving in partially automated vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there’s a widespread perception that partially automated vehicles are the same as fully self-driving cars, which has led drivers to take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.

Dante Lentini, who posted a video of himself wearing the Apple Vision Pro headset while in the driver’s seat of a partially automated Tesla and appearing to be pulled over by police, told Fortune that the stunt wasn’t as dangerous as it looked. He said his device was on transparency mode and that he was viewing the road from the headset’s cameras. Lentini said an Apple engineer told him the Apple Vision Pro has a steering-wheel detector that does not allow users in the driver seat to use its apps. Apple did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Wearing the headset while driving isn’t as dangerous as using other technologies behind the wheel, Lentini argued.

“While I understand the initial backlash and concern, I believe people may not know the device displays a passthrough vision display of what’s in front of me,” he said. “While I don’t recommend driving with it on, I would find someone being on their phone or even eating to be more hindered.”

Despite the video showing a police car pulled up behind him in a parking lot, Lentini was not pulled over or given a citation. The video was meant to be a skit, he said. 

Swerving into legal troubles

Lentini wasn’t busted for distracted driving, and inconsistencies in laws banning distracting technology in cars may explain why.

The use of handheld devices while driving is illegal in 24 states, and texting is illegal in 48 states, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics — and in all but two of those states, texting while driving is a primary law. That means law enforcement can ticket a driver for distracted driving without any other traffic violation, such as speeding.

But texting only accounts for some of the distractions behind the wheel. Two-thirds of drivers surveyed by the IIHS reported performing a distracting activity behind the wheel, like using a navigation app, making a call, or reading texts. Eight percent of those surveyed reported playing a video game while driving. 

While 35 states have laws that prohibit screens in drivers’ lines of sight, some of those states, such as New York and New Jersey, limit the ban to television, not internet streaming. In states like Texas, similar bans don’t apply to devices with screens mounted near the dashboard.

The introduction of face-mounted technology further complicates how distracted-driving laws are enforced. In 2013, Southern California driver Cecelia Abadie was pulled over and given a speeding ticket while driving wearing Google Glass, an Android mixed-reality product. She was given an additional citation for wearing Google Glass. California vehicle code 27602 outlines that a person should not drive if a screen pointed toward the driver is displaying video. Both charges were thrown out because of lack of evidence that the device was turned on and playing video. 

By February 2014, several states introduced legislation regulating the use of Google Glass behind the wheel. Google led lobbying efforts to kill bills banning Google Glass use while driving, arguing because the product was not yet readily available, banning it would be premature. Google Glass prototype sales ended in January 2015, but Google’s most recent enterprise version of the device was on the market from 2019 to 2023. 

It’s unclear if Apple Vision Pro will face similar regulatory hurdles as the Google Glass but until it does, expect more inadvisable headset sightings in online stunts.

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