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The Government Wants to Regulate Smartphone Map Apps to Curb Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is dangerous.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Obama White House emphasized that point in a proposed new transportation bill that would not only place restrictions on built-in automobile navigation aids, but also apply to apps on smartphones.

Current laws banning cell phones or texting while driving, the New York Times said, are not clear when it comes to apps such as Google Maps, Apple’sMaps or Google-owned Waze, an app that utilizes members (Wazers) to report traffic problems and the presence of police speed traps.

According to the proposed transportation bill, NHTSA would have the authority to regulate and set restrictions on these and other navigation-related apps.

Related Link: Google Maps Integrates Uber, Lane Guidance And Others Major Updates

As might be expected, automakers, which market built-in navigation systems, support the measure. Technology companies that produce the smartphone apps do not.

App companies have said the proposed regulations would be impractical and impossible to enforce. Part of the reason for this has to do with the fact smartphones are not just used in cars and not just by drivers the same way built-in navigation systems are.

Waze, for example, includes a notice that reports should not be posted by active drivers and has a feature that allows passengers to post by clicking a button saying the poster is not driving. Critics argue that there is nothing to prevent a driver from clicking that button, hence the need for regulation.

Following negotiations with the auto industry last year, the Transportation Department released voluntary guidelines that stipulated a navigation system single interaction time of not more than two seconds. Although the industry has followed the guidelines, as the New York Times noted, at 60 miles per hour, two seconds is 176 feet.

Last November, NHTSA said it already had the authority to regulate smartphone apps and that it planned to release new guidelines that included those devices sometime in 2014. The statement in November marked the first time NHTSA had said it had the authority to regulate portable devices.

Although voluntary guidelines for portable device apps have not yet been issued, NHTSA did hold a public meeting that included smartphones and tablets in March of this year prior to the announcement of the new proposed law.

At the time of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.

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