February 6, 2014
A California court was recently asked to address the issue of use of the “Google Glass” device while driving. This case is likely to be one of many that will examine the scope of permissible use of Google Glass and other increasingly prevalent visual display devices.
Google Glass and similar devices enable users to have virtually ubiquitous access to information presented in visual format. The devices can be “worn” and are thus convenient and highly portable. They provide users with a mobile visual display that can be readily accessed at essentially any time.
The driver in the California case was stopped for speeding. When the officer approached the car, he noticed that the driver was wearing the Google Glass device and that the device was active. The officer issued two tickets, one for speeding and one for violation of the California law that prohibits use of visual displays within sight of a driver (with the exception of GPS navigation displays).
The driver argued that the device had not been in use during driving. Claiming that the device was activated only as the officer approached the car, not during operation of the vehicle, the driver took the position that there was no moving violation.
The California court agreed with the driver. Concluding that there was not adequate evidence to indicate that the device had been used while the vehicle was moving, the court dismissed the ticket for use of the Google Glass device.
Although the court dismissed the Google Glass ticket in this particular case, the judge noted that use of Google Glass and similar devices falls within the scope of the California law prohibiting use of visual displays during operation of a motor vehicle. It is illegal in California to use visual displays such as Google Glass while operating a moving vehicle.
This case appears to represent the next generation of distracted driving enforcement actions. We continue to move through the challenges for traffic law enforcement presented by mobile phones and text messaging. Now we are entering the phase of heads-up, wearable display devices.
Each new generation of information and communications technology should be governed by the existing legal framework designed to reduce the threat of distracted driving. Regardless of the form of technology involved, current traffic laws and ordinary common sense require that all such equipment and devices should be used with care to avoid the harmful consequences of distracted driving.