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October 22, 2014

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California motorist cleared in Google Glass case

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AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

Cecilia Abadie wears her Google Glass as she talks with her attorney outside of traffic court in this Dec. 3, 2013, file photo taken in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego traffic court threw out a citation Thursday against a woman believed to be the first motorist in the country ticketed for driving while wearing a Google Glass computer-in-eyeglass device.

Commissioner John Blair ruled that Cecilia Abadie was not guilty because she had been cited under a code that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the device was in operation, which the officer did not provide.

However, Blair did find that the language of the code specifically bars the operation of a video or TV screen or similar device on the front of a vehicle while it is moving — a provision that Blair said could be broad enough to apply to Google Glass.

The device in a kind of glass-wear frame features a thumbnail-size transparent display above the right eye.

Abadie said she was happy she won her case but hoped the court would have ruled that Google Glass is legal to wear while driving whether activated or not.

"I believe it's an initial success but we have a long way to go," said Abadie, wearing the device outside the courthouse after the ruling.

Legal experts say the lower court ruling does not set a legal precedent but marks the beginning of a number of cases they expect courts to confront as lawmakers struggle to keep pace with fast-evolving technology.

"The fun is just starting," said Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Standford Law School.

From driverless cars to wearable devices that can enhance human functions, Wadhwa said, there are a host of legal questions to be answered. For example, when a Google-operated car is on the road and hits someone, who is responsible — the passenger, car manufacturer or software developer?

Abadie, a software developer, said she is among some 30,000 people called "explorers" who have been selected to try out Google Glass before the technology becomes widely available to the public later this year.

Abadie was cited after being pulled over for speeding on a San Diego freeway in October and the California Highway Patrol officer noticed she was wearing Google Glass.

Officer Keith Odle, a 10-year veteran of the CHP, testified Thursday that the "hardware for this device was blocking her peripheral vision on her right side," and that's why she sped by his patrol car at 85 mph in her Toyota Prius.

Blair rejected that as speculation, noting that Odle had never worn the device. He also threw out Odle's documentation of her speed and found Abadie not guilty of that count.

The commissioner also asked Odle to turn off his cellphone after it rang twice interrupting the proceedings.

Abadie's attorney William Concidine said the device was not activated when she was driving and the code was irrelevant because it does not specifically state that drivers are barred from using Google Glass.

He said Thursday he hopes the case will spur lawmakers to review legislation on the issue, otherwise the code will be open to interpretation by individual courts.

The lightweight frames are equipped with a hidden camera and tiny display that responds to voice commands. The technology can be used to do things such as check email, learn background about something the wearer is looking at, or to get driving directions.

Legislators in at least three states — Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia — have introduced bills that would ban driving with Google Glass.

Google officials did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Blair's ruling.

Google's website contains an advisory for users: "Read up and follow the law. Above all, even when you're following the law, don't hurt yourself or others by failing to pay attention to the road."

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