POST WRITTEN BY: Marina Gubenko (’16), J.D. Pace Law School
The release of Google Glass to the general public comes with an issue attached – is it safe and legal to use while driving? Google Glass is a hands-free device that has the same capabilities as a smartphone and allows the user to surf the internet, send texts, and scroll through social media. Google Glass is like having a tiny computer in front of your face all the time.
New York State prohibits a person from using any portable electronic device while the car is in motion. N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1225-d (McKinney 2014). Google Glass would seemingly fall under the NY statutory definition of portable device, which defines it as “any telephone, PDA, device with mobile data access, laptop, pager, messaging device, game, portable computing device, ‘or any other electronic device when used to input, write, send, receive, or read text for present or future communication.’” In examining whether Google Glass is legal to use while driving in New York, it is important to point out that the New York law prohibits use of any portable device while the vehicle is in motion. Considering a cellphone, it would be relatively easy for a police officer to observe if a driver operating a vehicle is holding a cellphone and doing something on it. However, with Google Glass functioning as glasses, a police officer would have a harder time deciphering if in use while the driver operates a vehicle.
In California, use of a telephone or electronic device is prohibited while driving unless the device is equipped to be hands-free. Cal. Vehicle Code § 23123 and § 23123.5 (West 2014). Additionally, a person is prohibited from driving a car when their vision is obstructed by “a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen….” Cal. Vehicle Code § 27602 (West 2014). Google Glass fits that definition; it is a monitor that is constantly in front of the driver. To violate this provision, the police officer needs to proffer evidence that Google Glass was on and being used while the person was driving. In 2014, a woman was pulled over and cited in San Diego, CA for wearing Google Glass while driving. The officer cited her under § 27602. According to a CNN news article, the case was dismissed because the evidence was insufficient to show that Goggle Glass was turned on at the time the woman was driving.
It has been argued that Google Glass is safer than using your phone while driving because a driver does not need to take hands off the wheel. However, a study conducted by the University of Central Florida showed that the reaction time between a Google Glass user and cell phone user in avoiding accidents was about the same.
The bottom-line is that Google Glass is a distraction when operating a motor vehicle. States are seeing the necessity of enacting new legislation to ban Google Glass while driving, and making sure that the new laws specifically include a device such as Google Glass. As of 2014, at least 7 states had proposed legislation. For example, NY Assembly Bill 02729 “prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while using a wearable computer with a head-mounted display.” This bill is aimed to address ocular technology such as Goggle Glass. Moreover, another NY Assembly Bill 04879 seeks to expand the current definition of portable electronic device to include Google Glass.
Going back to the issue of enforcement; since it appears to be difficult for police officers to determine whether Google Glass was operational and in use while driving, it seems that to ensure safety, the easiest solution is to prohibit wearing it while driving all together. Have we become a society that is unable to tear ourselves away from the virtual world? Are we willing to forego public safety so we can have a piece of technology attached to our heads and stay ‘connected’? We shouldn’t need laws to answer that.