Google Glass has made its first appearance on a speeding ticket issued in California. The smart glasses' unfortunate run-in with the law probably won't set any landmark legal precedents, but the incident has caused plenty of debate over the proper use of such devices while driving.
The case became public knowledge when Cecilia Abadie, a member of Google's Explorer program allowed to own an early edition of the smart glasses, posted on her Google Plus account about being stopped and issued a ticket by a San Diego police officer. Her ticket's second violation read: "Driving with Monitor visible to Driver (Google Glass)."
"A cop just stopped me and gave me a ticket for wearing Google Glass while driving!" Abadie wrote.
But some commentators were quick to point out that the ticket's first violation mentions that Abadie was ticketed primarily for going 129 kph (80 mph) in a 105 kph (65 mph) zone. That means the case is less about a police officer deliberately ticketing a driver for wearing Google Glass and more of a mundane speeding ticket.
"So I'm no lawyer, but I've read a police report or 3000," said Phil Nickinson in a comment. "And looking at this, nobody was stopped for wearing Google Glass while driving... The driver was cited for having a monitor visible while driving after being stopped for what appears to be speeding."
A few people also noted that the police officer used the common "pacing" method of matching the Abadie's speed to gauge her speed over time. That suggests Abadie failed to notice the police officer following her for at least a while—either because she was distracted by Google Glass or simply too focused on her own driving.
Still, the fact that the police officer bothered to cite Google Glass at all is worth a look. The citation mentions the California statute 27602 that begins with the following:
"A person shall not drive a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other similar means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications, is operating and is located in the motor vehicle at a point forward of the back of the driver’s seat, or is operating and the monitor, screen, or display is visible to the driver while driving the motor vehicle."
Google Glass can display videos that would probably qualify as "entertainment or business applications." But it can also run navigation apps that may prove as useful to drivers as a separate GPS system or driver heads-up display mounted on the dashboard or windshield. The decision to limit drivers' usage of smart glasses to specific apps and the enforcement of such regulations could prove tricky—unless lawmakers follow the examples of the UK and U.S. states such as West Virginia by aiming to ban the use of Google Glass while driving.
This latest case also feeds into the broader debate over what devices may aid or distract drivers on the road. Head up displays are sure to become more common as their costs go down. Many U.S. state laws already ban texting or other handheld phone use for drivers based on the increased risks of an accident. Studies have even suggested that voice-activated systems for accessing emails or text messages can still worsen driver distraction. (That worrying prospect has not stopped many new cars from including built-in voice recognition systems.)
If a ticket had been written solely because Abadie was wearing Google Glass, both Google and smart glasses fans might have bigger cause for concern. But perhaps this latest speeding case will spur more U.S. states to begin seriously considering how they want to regulate smart glasses on the road.
Top Photo: Google; Bottom Photo: Cecilia Abadie
Jeremy Hsu has been working as a science and technology journalist in New York City since 2008. He has written on subjects as diverse as supercomputing and wearable electronics for IEEE Spectrum. When he’s not trying to wrap his head around the latest quantum computing news for Spectrum, he also contributes to a variety of publications such as Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, and others. He is a graduate of New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program.