Ticketing Google Glass

Can the police ticket a driver for driving while wearing their Google Glass?  Glass user Cecillia Abade recently found herself on the receiving end of a ticket in California for this very reason.  In some ways this is the classic case of the law having trouble anticipating and dealing with new technologies.

Merits of the Glass aside, the ticket presents some interesting legal issues.  Many states do not handle use of personal electronics while driving in a consistent manner.  As the article points out, many states ban texting or calling on the phone while driving but do not ban looking at the phone while driving.  California bans driving “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” (V C Section 27602 Television).  However, California permits driving if the device “enhance[s] or supplement[s]” the driver’s view in order to drive the car better.  This leaves an enormous amount of ambiguity for potential Glass owners.

The one obvious takeaway here is that the officer probably should have done nothing.  It is not clear from the statute cited whether Ms. Abade actually broke the law by driving with her Glass on.  In fact, the Glass could potentially violate section 27602 and fit its exception at the same time.  Unless the officer had some special insight into how Ms. Abade used her Glass at the time he pulled Ms. Abade over, it’s impossible to know whether she was using the device’s heads-up display (HUD) to make it easier for her to catch difficult traffic details or watching cat videos. 

Most likely, California would need a statute that deals specifically with the implications of Google Glass and its effect on traffic.  One problem is that there’s no way to know the effect that using Google Glass has on traffic until someone conducts the appropriate research.  Another issue is the statute in question.  The statute it tries to remain open-ended in anticipation of new technology.  The wording does not speak to specific devices, but seems to try to ban using certain devices while driving (such as DVD players) while protecting the driver’s right to use certain other devices that might get caught up in the statute’s wording (like GPS devices).  When a device comes along that defies previous statutes’ categories, the law tends to have trouble with the new device.  Any law dealing with the Glass would need to anticipate that the Glass has potential uses that are both helpful and detrimental to driving, in ways that are difficult for traffic police to access on the fly.      

It should be very interesting to see if Ms. Abade challenges this ticket, and what ruling comes of that case.  That might be one of the more important traffic court cases in recent memory.

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