The US Transportation Department already thinks it has the power to regulate navigation apps on your smartphone, and now it's pressing Congress to put that authority in writing. According to The New York Times, a new piece of the Obama administration’s proposed transportation bill would grant the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the ability to "set restrictions on the apps and later order changes if they are deemed dangerous." Technology companies and developers are up in arms about the measure, claiming it would be nearly impossible to enforce and bog down the pace of innovation. But officials maintain they have no plans to interfere with or maintain oversight of apps in development; the measure would simply give them authority to mandate changes if an app somehow proved dangerous on the road. As of right now, the Transportation Department has no firm plans to issue rules, the Times says.
But Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, Nokia Maps, and other navigation software could eventually be subject to the provision, which may find its way into a highway bill that's expected to successfully pass through Congress. The Transportation Department views these apps as "map aids," putting them on equal footing with the built-in navigation systems in most new automobiles. The goal is obviously to prevent distracted driving and keep drivers from pulling their eyes off the road.
Automakers support the idea. They claim that implementing restrictions only for built-in systems and ignoring Google Maps would worsen the problem, since users would pull out a smartphone without hesitation to get around them. "We believe that if you’re looking at a smaller screen, that’s less effective than looking at a larger screen on the dashboard," Gloria Bergquist, an Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesperson, told the Times. Many states have explicitly outlawed texting while driving, but navigation apps remain a murkier point of contention.