updated 06:40 pm EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
Government seeks right to require app changes if dangerous, remove device distractions
With smartphone navigation sitting in a gray area for operation in cars, the United States government is looking to set rules on how applications can be used. If the recently-announced Grow America Act is enacted as law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would have control to set rules for in-car navigation systems. This would include any applications powered by smartphones, including Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze among others.
According to a report from The New York Times, the type of power that the NHTSA would be granted isn't completely outlined. However, the bill has the support of automakers who already have to comply with anti-distraction laws for in-dash systems. Technology companies are fighting against the bill, saying that "any such law would be impractical and impossible to enforce."
The Department of Transportation is trying to get more of a say when it comes to electronic distractions during travel. While the department would be looking to have a single standard to apply to navigation devices and programs, it says that it wouldn't enact any rules in the immediate future. However, any change could end up in a highway-related bill.
The Department of Transportation has said that any time spent looking at a navigation device should take no more than two seconds. The guidelines the department set forth are only voluntary, without having any power behind them. That could change as well, adding the ability to penalize auto manufacturers that don't comply with any rules. Many applications also offer warnings about having drivers use them, since it can be a distraction to try and operate them while in transit.
Numerous states currently have bans on cell phone use while operating devices, but the area of navigation with a smartphone isn't clearly defined in all of them. States like California, New York and Oregon all have cell phone texting and talking bans set into a law. A total of 44 states have texting bans, while only 13 states have outright bans on hand-held device use, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. These state laws have taken the provisions much further in the name of public safety, but further government action could mean a number of things.
For instance, there is no information on how the NHTSA would keep up with changing technologies. It is possible that it could require developers and manufacturers to submit their applications and devices for approval. If that would happen, it could create a bottleneck in the technology advancements if the agency doesn't have the proper staff to handle it.
It could also add an additional step any time there is a bug to fix. This could have a bigger impact on device launches, if additional time is needed for review of a secondary function before a new smartphone or tablet could launch. Still, smartphones and tablets must undergo government scrutiny and testing for compliance with FCC regulations, with no detrimental effect or delay in that burgeoning market.
However, the NHTSA has clarified the proposed stance some, saying that it will only be able to set restrictions on apps. It also reserves the right to order changes if the application is considered dangerous to use. Officials say that they wouldn't be granted the ability to review apps, or order them changed before hitting the market.