The Next Big Traffic Safety Debate: Google Glass

A San Diego woman recently got a ticket for driving with them on. This is only the beginning.

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Vincent Nguyen, Editor in Chief of SlashGear, wears Google Glass while covering the introduction of the Microsoft Surface 2, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 in New York. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Cecilia Abadie from San Diego, California, may be the first person to get a ticket for driving while wearing Google Glass.

After being pulled over late Tuesday night, Abadie promptly posted a scan of her ticket on her Google Plus profile, along with the big question: “Is #GoogleGlass illegal while driving or is this cop wrong???”

To be clear, Abadie’s first offense was driving above speed limit. But the fact that “Google Glass” made it onto the ticket as a second violation virtually guarantees the beginning of a nationwide debate.

A scan of Abadie's ticket, as shared on her Google+ profile. 

The specific law the officer cited is California Vehicle Code Section 27602, which says you can’t drive while some form of visual display is operating and is located in front of the driver’s seat or is otherwise visible to you while driving. Although mapping displays and GPS systems are allowed under that law, determining where wearing Google Glass fits in requires parsing a host of technicalities.

How can authorities prove Glass was operating and that the driver wasn’t using the GPS function? Does the gadget itself obscure the driver’s view of the road and other vehicles? Is driving while wearing Glass commensurable with driving while speaking on the phone hands-free (which is allowed in California)?

Current U.S. laws regarding distracted driving are already complicated and varied. For example, New York bans handheld cellphones for all drivers, while Massachusetts bans all cellphone use for novice and bus drivers and leaves the handheld ban as a local option. Most states ban texting for all drivers, but some states, like Texas and Oklahoma, only ban texting for novice drivers or bus drivers. It’ll be difficult to determine whether wearing Google Glass is more or less distracting than calling or texting. Meanwhile, West Virginia, Delaware, and the United Kingdom have already been making moves to ban Google Glass while driving.

This debate also has implications for other modes of transportation. A bill introduced to the California state senate in 2012 proposed to extend the handheld calling and texting ban to cyclists (it didn’t pass). If driving while wearing Glass is deemed a violation, a similar ruling could affect cycling. And maybe even walking. All it will take is someone getting hurt, and it’s finger-pointing time.

And then there's the slow manner in which our laws keep up with technology itself. Beyond Google Glass, the big focus in the emerging "wearable technology" space is the smartwatch. Samsung has already released the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and Google seems to be going head-to-head with Apple in pushing out the definitive smartwatch. The watches would support interaction with smartphones and apps — all potential distractions for drivers. When worn, the smartwatch is unabashedly positioned in the driver’s field of vision.

If Abadie fights her ticket in court — and it looks like she wants to — the case could set an important precedent. Abadie’s experience highlights the modern challenge of laws failing to keep up with technology, and in the case of Google Glass, this is just the beginning.  

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