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US Google Glass driver case thrown out, but law remains unclear

Judge says no evidence that device switched on; case highlights struggle for law to keep pace with technology

A judge in California has dismissed a case brought against a woman who was wearing a Google Glass headset while driving – but only because there was no evidence that it was in operation at the time she was pulled over.

Software developer Cecilia Abadie was wearing the device when she was stopped for speeding in San Diego in October, reports the Huffington Post.

Abadie is among 30,000 people – ‘Explorers,’ as Google terms them – who are testing the device, which includes a tiny camera and projects images onto a heads up display.

Information relayed by Google Glass might include emails, video or satellite navigation.

According to California Highway Patrolman Keith Odle, Abadie passed him at 80mph on a road with a speed limit of 65mph.

He told the Southern California traffic court he believed the motorist had not seen him because her field of vision was blocked by the headset.

Besides ticketing her for speeding, the officer also cited Abadie for driving with a visible monitor.

Presiding over the case, Commissioner John Blair agreed that there was no case to answer on the second count, because there was “no testimony it was operating or in use while Ms Abadie was driving."

But he rejected her attorney’s insistence that the law did not apply to Google Glass because the device was not specifically named in it.

Instead, the judge said he was of the opinion that Google Glass comes within "the purview and intent" of that law.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Abadie said she had hoped that the judge would have issued a clear ruling on the issue of wearing Google Glass at the wheel, whether or not it is switched on.

The case, which does not set a precedent for other courts to follow, is believed to be the first anywhere to specifically address whether wearing Google Glass while driving is legal or not.

Other lawsuits are exepected to follow and three states – Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia are currently considering introducing laws that specifically ban Google Glass.

But that takes time, and legislation is struggling to keep pace with advances in technology – in the UK, laws banning drivers from using handheld mobile phones while driving for example, were brought in long before smartphones, which bring a whole new set of safety-related issues, were launched.

Earlier this month, road safety campaigners in the UK reacted with alarm to news that the Department for Transport was in talks with Google to permit the use of Google Glass while driving.

A DfT spokesman confirmed to The Sunday Times that discussions had been held with Google “to discuss the implications of the current law for Google Glass.”

He added: “Google are anxious their products do not pose a road safety risk and are currently considering options to allow the technology to be used in accordance with the law.”

But after pointing out that existing legislation about the use of handheld mobile phones dates back more than a decade, Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) insisted:

“All the research shows that even hands-free phones are distracting. These glasses are just as distracting and increase the risk just as much as any other hands-free device.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has floated the idea that Google may be working on what it terms “a more socially acceptable version of Google Glass” – one that would dispense with the existing distinctive headsets, and be based on contact lenses instead.

The newspaper’s speculation is based on Google’s announcement on Thursday that it is working on a “smart contact lens” that would enable diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels.

Besides the obvious potential for such a product to be extended to other applications, the Wall Street Journal points out that the Google blog post was co-authored by people involved in the Google Glass project, including the man who founded it, University of Washington researcher Babak Parviz.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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