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DOT Seeks to Ban Drivers From Using Navigation Apps

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Google Maps app

Google Maps app

The Obama administration’s proposed transportation bill includes a provision that would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to restrict drivers from using smartphone navigation apps and other navigation aids, and to order changes if the apps are found to distract drivers and cause crashes, reports Matthew L. Wald for The New York Times.

Wald writes that NHTSA first focused on built-in navigation systems by issuing voluntary guidelines last year, and is now focusing on the mobile apps. But safety advocates and automakers say a lack of consistent across-the-board guidelines for all navigation aids could lead drivers to use mobile apps. He quotes Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers:

‘If you put restrictions on the built-in systems designed to be used while driving, it’s going to encourage people to use hand-held devices that are not optimal for use by a driver.’

The Google Maps and Waze apps, for example, are cheaper alternatives to built-in navigation systems that some cars come equipped with, writes Eliot Jager for Newsmax. Waze lets app users share road updates with others, but blocks the driver from doing so; however, nothing prevents drivers from identifying themselves to the app as passengers, Jager writes.

Regulating the apps is a “gray area” regarding laws that ban drivers from using cellphones and from texting while driving, Wald writes. In one California case, a driver was pulled over and ticketed $165 for using his iPhone while driving in traffic near Fresno two years ago, Wald writes. The driver, Steven R. Spriggs, said he was not talking on his cellphone (which California law prohibits) but that he was using a map in his phone. The police officer said that did not matter, and Spriggs took the case to court. This year, an appeals court reversed Spriggs’s conviction, Wald notes.

Automakers support the provision to regulate use of the apps while driving, but technology companies are opposed to it, Wald writes. He quotes Catherine McCulloch, executive director of the Intelligent Car Coalition, an industry group, as saying it would be too difficult for NHTSA to enforce such a law: “They don’t have the budget or the structure to oversee both Silicon Valley and the auto industry.”

Regulators say they already have authority and would like to have that clearly written into law, Wald writes. He adds that when David Strickland was NHTSA’s administrator last year, he told Congress that navigation systems could be classified as “motor vehicle equipment.” But the electronics industry protested that smartphone apps are not equipment, a category they said includes such things as key chain remote control door openers, Wald writes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has no immediate plan to issue rules, Wald writes. Last year, DOT released voluntary guidelines for automakers “stipulating that any navigation system should not take more than two seconds for a single interaction, and 12 seconds total,” Wald writes. That two seconds comprises 176 feet of driving at 60 miles per hour, he notes. AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety says that according to federal estimates, distracted driving is a factor in 16% of all fatal car accidents, leading to about 5,000 deaths per year.


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