Traffic citation: Google Glass-ing while driving

A woman in California highlighted a growing debate about distracted driving when she received a driving citation for wearing Google Glasses while driving.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Google Glass team member Salil Pandit wears Google Glasses at a booth at Google I/O 2013 in San Francisco, Wednesday.

Sunglasses may be necessary eyewear for driving, but Google Glasses? Wearing the smart spectacles could land you a ticket.

That is what happened to Cecilia Abadie. The Google Glass early adopter was pulled over and given a ticket for speeding in San Diego on Tuesday, and issued a second citation due to "driving with a monitor visible to the driver.” In other words: driving while Glass-ing. Ms. Abadie could contest her ticket in court, inciting debate over the murky legal waters where Google’s innovation meets the real world.

After receiving the ticket, Abadie posted the ticket to her Google+ account.

“A cop just stopped me and gave me a ticket for wearing Google Glass while driving!” she writes. “Is #GoogleGlass [illegal] while driving or is this cop wrong?”

According to the California Highway Patrol (CPH) laws, the cop is right. Her violation fell under vehicle code section 267602, which 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.

There are exceptions, however, if the device is using maps or navigation tools, which is a Google Glass capability. However, Abadie says in her Google+ post that her Google Glasses were not on while she was operating her car, but says the officer insisted that the monitor over her right eye was blocking her view.

Googlers in Abadie’s circles offered up their support, with comments ranging from encouraging words to legal service and funding offers. Abadie hasn’t made comment as to whether she will fight the ticket in court yet, but it could prove to be a point of contention between Google and state driving laws.

On Google’s side, the tech company doesn’t seem quite sure where to stand. In the Google Glass website “directions” section, Google encourages using Glass for navigation: “Glass can help you navigate to where you need to go and guide you with turn-by-turn directions, whether you're on a bike, in a car, taking the subway, or going by foot.” However, in the FAQ section it reminds users they must take responsibility for the laws where they operate Glass: “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!” Google did not comment on the Google Glass ticket situation specifically, but a spokesperson told CNN Glass users should always “put their safety and the safety of others first.”

The CHP however, says it is set in its rules. Jake Sanchez, a CHP spokesperson in the San Diego office told the Los Angeles Times that any distraction is bad.

"Anything that takes your attention away from driving -- putting on makeup, eating food, talking to a passenger, watching a video, talking on the phone -- is dangerous," Mr. Sanchez says.

Google Glass, which projects images into the sightline of the wearer and is controlled by voice activation and tapping the side of the device, is already banned in certain visibility-sensitive areas like casinos and movie theaters. But driving rules will likely remain dependent on vehicle laws in a given area, with some areas already planning for what is to come. West Virginia and Delaware are both considering a ban on such electronic devices while driving. The United Kingdom Department for Transportation has already rolled out proposed legislation to ban Google Glass while driving in Britain. This would be a huge hit to the development of Glass, as hands-free navigation is a big selling point for the device.

However, this Google Glass citation is only a new twist on an old debate over distracted driving. Would glancing at a map in the corner of your eye be better than glancing down at a smart phone screen for directions? A recent AAA study found that drivers lose 37 percent of their brain activity related to driving when distracted by a phone, hands-free or not. As Google Glass is still in beta mode (still being tested, not yet officially slated for commercial sale) it remains to be seen whether Glass has a leg-up when it comes to safety.

A peek at software innovations in the last few months shows a huge uptick in wearable tech, so these issues will no doubt stick around as Google navigates (not while driving, of course) the future of Google Glass.

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