Google Glass Driver Cleared Of Wrongdoing: This Is Why Distracted Driving Laws Won't Work

January 17, 2014

In November of 2013, Cecilia Abadie was ticketed for wearing Google Glass while driving. However, Abadie insisted that she wasn't using Glass at the time, even though the device was turned on. She fought the ticket in court, and yesterday she won.

But here's the interesting part: the court didn't clear Abadie because it determined that she was not, in fact, using Google Glass. No, the court cleared Abadie because it had no way of knowing whether she was actively using the device while driving.

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That, in a nutshell, explains why laws meant to combat distracted driving don't work well -- and the situation is only going to get worse in the future due to three very important factors:

1. The way we interact with our devices: Prohibiting drivers from texting behind the wheel is one thing. At the very least, SMS messages have timestamps, which offer clues as to if and when a driver was sending a text message. Interaction with Google Glass, however, isn't always so neat-and-clean, and as the technology improves, it's going to become even more fluid. True, experts could look at your Google Glass' history and determine what you might've been doing at a particular time, but that's not much more accurate than looking at your browser history. For example, you may have Facebook open in one of your tabs right now, but are you using it? Not to mention, digging around in people's computers brings up another very sensitive issue...

2. Privacy: In this age of NSA surveillance and data leaks and tracking software, our definition of privacy is clearly changing. Still, poking around on someone's personal computer seems to cross some sort of line. How deep an investigation is appropriate for someone who might've been Glassing while driving?

3. The size of the devices we use: In San Diego, police pulled Abadie over because they could see she was wearing Google Glass. What happens when consumers ditch the specs and switch to smart contact lenses? Don't think that day is too far off: Google's already working on them. That's pretty much game over for the police.

The good news is that in a couple more decades, cars will be largely autonomous, so we may not need distracted driving laws anymore -- or at least not as many. The bad news is, we have 30 or 40 years of growing pains ahead of us.

From where we sit, the responsibility for gadget safety lies less with legislatures and more with end-users (i.e. us) and gadget-makers. We need to learn to put away the gizmos when we're driving, while device manufacturers like Google (and Nissan) and their app partners need to develop ways that make it easy for us to disable devices when we're engaged in tasks that require our full attention. 

They also need to make Google Glass a lot more attractive, but that's a subject for another post.

Bonus: If you're unfamiliar with the way that Google Glass looks to users, check out the promo clip embedded above.


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