In what appears to be the very first case of its kind, a woman is San Diego has received a ticket for driving while wearing Google Glass. The incident was first reported on the woman’s Google+ page, and has since been reported in media outlets across the country, including the L.A. Times and Fox News.
Google Glass and Related Traffic Laws
Google glass is a new hi-tech product that uses a bluetooth connection to connect the user to the internet via a small display mounted just above and in front of the right eye. Normal vision is possible with glass by simply looking beyond the display, but when enabled the glass provides the user with a functional web display. Glass has been used by automobile drivers specifically for navigation and other mapping applications.
The driver in this case was cited under a California traffic law that prohibits the use of television and other video screens in the front seat of a passenger vehicle. California Vehicle Code Section 27602 states:
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.
But, would Google glass be illegal in Louisiana? Well, like California, Louisiana has a traffic law that prohibits the use of video displays that are visible to the driver while moving. The Louisiana law states that,
…no person shall drive a motor vehicle which is equipped with a television receiver, screen, or other means of visually receiving a television broadcast or a video signal that produces entertainment or business applications where the moving images are visible to the driver while the motor vehicle is in motion.
Exceptions to the Law that Might Apply to Google Glass
On its face, it would appear that Google glass might be covered by the prohibition on video screen usage while driving. However, both the Louisiana and California laws have similar exceptions for navigation and mapping applications built into the law. In Louisiana, for instance, the following applications are exempted from the law:
- A vehicle information display.
- A navigation or global positioning display.
- A mapping display.
- A visual display used to monitor the area immediately around a motor vehicle for the purpose of maneuvering the vehicle.
A persuasive argument could be made that Google glass could fall into either the second or third of the listed exceptions, especially if used explicitly for the purpose of vehicle navigation.
However, Google glass can arguably be used for many other purposes, including many which are banned by other provisions of the Louisiana traffic law. Louisiana Revised Statute 32:300.5 makes it illegal for any person to “operate any motor vehicle upon any public road or highway of this state while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication,” or “while using a wireless telecommunications device to access, read, or post to a social networking site.”
Using Google glass then to text or surf Facebook (or Google+) would be illegal under this statute. Obviously, the distinction raises issues of how to determine to what use the Google glass is being put. Navigation is OK, but Facebook is not – but how can a police officer tell the difference? This case, and others like it that are sure to follow will test a myriad of issues related to this inquiry.
Google’s Thoughts on Driving with Glass
Google for its part seems to be coming down on the side of limiting the use of Google glass in the name of safety. In a Google Glass FAQ related to driving with glass, Google says:
…most states have passed laws limiting the use of mobile devices while driving any motor vehicle, and most states post those rules on their department of motor vehicles websites. Read up and follow the law! Above all, even when you’re following the law, don’t hurt yourself or others by failing to pay attention to the road.
And in a statement in response to the traffic ticket incident Google said the following:
As we make clear in our help center, Explorers should always use Glass responsibly and put their safety and the safety of others first. More broadly, Glass is built to connect you more with the world around you, not distract you from it.
Perhaps Google could disable some of the functionality of glass while a vehicle was in motion. This would enable users to use glass for navigation, but prohibit them from texting and surfing the web. However, the theory behind glass in the first place is that is allows functions like texting to be accomplished in a more effective and safer way than traditional mobile devices. Texting on a mobile device while driving, for instance, requires looking away rom the road to the screen of the mobile device in most cases. With glass this can be accomplished without looking away from the road – mitigating the argument against texting while driving in the first place.
Whatever happens with this case, there will certainly be many like it to come. As the technology develops we will see new responses from law enforcement officers as they enforce existing laws. Additionally we are likely to see the re-shaping of state and local traffic laws to accommodate new technology. Finally it will be interesting to watch the response of technology developers like Google as the market for, and usage of new products like Google glass continues to increase.