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Transportation Dept. Wants To Regulate Smartphone Maps

The Department of Transportation seeks the power to determine whether smartphone apps are a danger to drivers.

 Government Data + Maps: 10 Great Examples
Government Data + Maps: 10 Great Examples
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Smartphones and tablets are excellent navigational tools, and people use them often to get from Point A to Point B. Many put Google Maps or similar apps to use when behind the wheels of their cars -- a big reason such apps were created. The government contends this is a safety risk. Many of today's cars ship with in-dash navigation systems, but these are already overseen loosely by the federal government. Smartphone- and tablet-based navigation apps are not, at least not officially. That may be about to change.

Proposed legislation would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the authority to regulate navigation apps used on smartphones and tablets when in moving vehicles. The language is buried in the Obama administration's larger transportation act, known as the GROW AMERICA Act, or "Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America." Congress will soon evaluate the proposal. Carmakers support the new measures to a degree, but technology companies do not. The biggest issue may be the ability to enforce such regulation.

The New York Times cites the example of Steven Spriggs, who was ticketed for using Google Maps in stop-and-go traffic in California two years ago. California law bans the use of mobile devices when behind the wheel, but many argue using maps on a smartphone is the same as using a paper-based map (which is still allowed). The officer in Spriggs's case didn't see it that way and issued a $165 citation. Spriggs was eventually able to reverse his conviction on appeal, due to the vagaries of California law, but the case brought up questions that need answers.

Does the government have the right to regulate applications? If so, which apps? Does an app's regulatory status change depending on when and where it is used (sitting on your couch at home versus when behind the wheel of a car)? How will regulating apps affect developers and the process for submitting and reviewing apps?

[Are you sick of prying eyes watching you? See 13 Ways To Beat Big Brother.]

Right now, carmakers have agreed to broad strokes set by the Department of Transportation when it comes to how the in-dash navigation tools behave. The legislation before Congress intends to target these systems first for actual regulation. Since carmakers are already working with a set of voluntary guidelines, they aren't (too) opposed to further scrutiny.

(Source: US Marine Corps via Wikimedia Commons.)
(Source: US Marine Corps via Wikimedia Commons.)

David L. Strickland, former administration of the NHTSA, believes all navigation tools, whether in-dash or handheld, should be "classified as motor vehicle equipment." Such classification would put them under the scrutiny of the government.

Tech industry backers claim the government doesn't have the staffing, time, nor money to review mobile navigation tools. Google Maps and Apple Maps may account for the bulk of what smartphone and tablet owners use, but they are hardly the only such apps available. The Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store contain thousands of navigation apps. The government can't regulate all of them.

Congress will debate the merits of The GROW AMERICA Act over the next several months and make a decision later this year. It's time for the technology industry to weigh in, before it's too late.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Strategist
6/16/2014 | 3:13:14 PM
Government gnikcuf tihs up
That is exactly what we need, government gnikcuf up something good.
Dominic JamesC324
Dominic JamesC324,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2014 | 3:24:07 PM
Stay out of my apps, my phone, my wallet, etc!
I think our government needs to worry about important stuff and stop trying to regulate us to death.  In a moving car, why can't a passenger use it in a moving car?  If people are using apps, phones, texting, etc while driving and harm or kill someone, PUNISH them accordingly.  We do not need government looking over our shoulder and holding our hands like children.  More government monitoring reducing our freedoms, bit by bit.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2014 | 3:46:06 PM
Re: Government gnikcuf tihs up
Turning off Google Navigation apps while driving is about as stupid as disabling Hands Free voice lookup while driving. So what do I do to renable Hands Free, slam the brake in the middle of the road, yell "Call Work" then keep on driving. All this will do is cause more accidents, but hey it's perfectly legal to slam the brakes in the middle of any highway for any reason at all.

Let's see though, how many delivery agencies use the GPS Navigation on their phones all day with no accidents? Yet it is perfectly legal to layout a map bigger than my windshield across the dashboard and drive down the road? I'm pretty sure using the in-hand paper map is a lot more likely to cause an accident than a cell phone's voice activated GPS.

Buy nobody ever does a study on that one. All these studies are flawed. Yes, obviously doing something that distracts you while driving can cause an accident, but when the alternative is something stupid like fighting with a map versus yelling out verbal commands or tapping 'go' on the screen, obviously the latter option is the better one.

Well here's another study that has probably never been done. Which is more distracting resulting in more driver error, fighting with your kids over the phone while driving, or fighting with your kids sitting in the car while driving? Once again, cell phones would probably be the best option, yet in many states it is prefectly fine to wreck while yelling at people in the vehicle, but get caught with a cell phone and bam that's definately to blame.

Dangerous senarios, poor attention to your environment, lack of driving skill, and poor reaction time causes accidents, not cell phones, so if you get in an accident stop pointing at the cell phone cause you've just got 3 more fingers pointing right back at you. Basically if you can't use a phone and drive at the same time, then you should never be on the road in the first place. People that wreck simply because they pushed a button don't have the skill or common sense necessary that should be required to drive a deadly weapon such as a vehicle. So the real problem is, getting a license and keeping it is just way too easy. Most drivers today shouldn't even be allowed on the road.

I should know, I'm a delivery driver, since 1996, never got in a accident, not even so much as a ticket, and have used my cell phone for both GPS and CALLs basically the entire time. Even 1 accident and I lose my job, so I just use common sense and drive carefully. That's all it takes.
User Rank: Author
6/16/2014 | 5:04:16 PM
unnecessary regulation
I would agree that adding government oversight here seems unnecessary and may slow down the pace of app improvements. Listening to Google Maps talk to me while i drive feels a lot safer than those old paper maps ever did. Hands-free nav works great.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2014 | 5:25:40 PM
Re: Government gnikcuf tihs up
This is really silly and far over reaching. The government should spend time protecting our privacy from marketing companys and itself before going after this. This is such a waste of time. 
Tom Mariner
Tom Mariner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/16/2014 | 5:28:02 PM
A big dent in freedom
"Carmakers support the new measures to a degree, but technology companies do not." Carmakers can force you to buy a $5,000 "technology package" to get their ineffective nav system -- gee, wonder why they support the government's possible ban of anything from a smartphone in a car?

I knew that with the yahoos in government in California and our President trying to act like Jimmy "55 mph" Carter, we would get here really quickly. We have so few techies in Congress that these idiots believe that listening to a nav app is equivalent to texting!

After they strip you of your right to navigate, next will be the entertainment system. Do you think the car guys are going to pass up the opportunity to force you to pay for Pandora, etc. including a cellular connection built in? if you want to change a station, you are going to have to pull over to the side of the road -- just like you now do for your AM or FM station -- wait, we don't have to do that.

Or pull to the side to touch a screen of the nav system to select an alternate route, just like you do with your climate control -- wait, we don't have to do that either!

And your freedom will fly away on the wings of "safety". Wait, it gets better, this new Federal Regulation, not only steals a right reserved to your state government, but the fantastically expensive new bureau, packed with party bosses will cost you big additional taxes!
User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2014 | 6:00:41 PM
Good idea
Good idea....I've seen too many people driving and texting/data entering while driving.    It's an accident waiting to happen.   If they want to find out how to get to point "A", then enter the information BEFORE you get behind the wheel, not during.
IW Pick
User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2014 | 8:15:02 PM
What Prompted This?
Generally the government doesn't get involved with things like this without prompting from entities who have complained.  What lobby group is being vocal about the need to "get control" of mobile device navigation solutions?  Is it the traditional competitors in this space (TomTom, Garmin, etc.)?  Is it a group of motivated individuals who had the misfortune to be misguided and harmed by using them?
User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2014 | 9:48:18 PM
Are you kidding me?
Um, how about no.
User Rank: Ninja
6/17/2014 | 12:20:04 AM
Re: Good idea
Exactly right. If the federal government can mandate that the states have to either brand you as a "criminal" for drinking 3 beers or lose highway funding, how about some protection from the self-absorbed drivers who devote far more attention to their smart phones than they to me, and to everyone else who is just trying to get across the road in one piece.
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