A California woman cited for distracted driving for wearing Google Glass while on the road has had her case dismissed. She appears to be the first person in the nation charged with distracted driving using the computer-in-eyeglasses device as the source of her distraction. The woman, a software developer who was selected to try out Google Glass before the devices will be in the hands of the public later this year, was cited under a code banning operation of a video or TV screen at the front of a vehicle that is moving. The Traffic Court Commissioner who ruled on the case said that the code is broad enough to apply to Google Glass, but there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the device was in the “active” mode when the woman was driving. However, he refused to rule that it is legal to wear the device and drive while it is turned on. The woman said that despite the glasses being “on,” she was not using them in the “active” mode at the time.
Her defense attorney argued that anything could be a distraction, even something as common as changing radio stations. He contended that if lawmakers did not rule definitively that Google Glass can be used safely while someone is driving, the code used to cite his client would be left up to the interpretation of individual judges, causing some confusion. Google glasses, which can be voice-activated or turned on with a wink, have a hidden camera and thumbnail sized, transparent display above the right eye. The device can be used to do things such as check email, do research on items the wearer is looking at, take a picture, record a scene and even get driving directions.
Legal experts are now arguing that this ruling could be the start of many court battles in the courts, as state lawmakers try to come to terms with existing laws and the rapid arrival and ever-changing new technologies coming to market. Vivewk Wadhwa, a fellow from Stanford Law School, agrees that the battles have just begun, because the lower court ruling does not set a legal precedent, but rather marks what he expects will be numerous, similar challenges. Included in those challenges will be other wearable devices and certainly, driverless cars, all coming to the marketplace in the near future. Wadhwa offered a scenario in which a driverless car is being operated on the road and then hits someone. Who is the responsible party? The “driver” (now being referred to as the “passenger”), the car manufacturer, the roadway network or the software developer? The possibilities for finding fault could be a long list. After the California ruling, Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia have introduced bills that would ban driving with Google Glass. More states are expected to follow.