"Don't text while driving."
That's a common-sense adage by this point. But, "Don't use smart phone navigation apps while driving"? Not so much. And yet, that's the goal of the Department of Transportation as it seeks legal authority to regulate phone- and tablet-based navigation apps.
The provision is included in the Obama Administration's recent transportation bill titled The Grow America Act, which would allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to oversee and review all in-car navigation devices. It would give the agency authority to order apps to be altered if they do not meet the government's safety guidelines.
Most automakers that produce cars with navigation systems already adhere to these guidelines. This marks the first time, however, that such a law could affect Silicon Valley. Namely, Apple and Google, whose navigation apps are often the reason a driver may have his or her head bowed at a red light, looking up directions.
Consequently, technology companies oppose the measure, arguing the Department of Transportation doesn't have the time, resources, or manpower to provide the necessary regulation, reports The New York Times.
“They don’t have enough software engineers,” Catherine McCullough, executive director of the Intelligent Car Coalition, an industry group, tells The Times. “They don’t have the budget or the structure to oversee both Silicon Valley and the auto industry.”
For its part, the Department of Transportation views apps such as Apple's Maps and Waze, the popular social-media navigation tool that is also owned by Google, as potentially life-threatening hazards on the road. Car crashes "remain one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.," according to DOT, noting that in 2012, car crashes killed more than 33,000 people in the US. And according to the National Safety Council, "using a cell phone while driving makes it four times as likely that you'll crash – while using handheld or hands-free devices."
Last year, the Department of Transportation released a series of voluntary guidelines outlining precautions that drivers can take. The guidelines emphasize that drivers should only use smart phone applications, such as texting or browsing social-media content, while the car is stopped and parked. The guidelines also reflected a federal study showing that using phones and other portable devices while driving tripled the likelihood of crashing.