The Transportation Department wants to regulate navigation apps like Google Maps, auto industry agrees


Google Glass Navigation

In what is supposedly a battle to help curb distracted driving, the Transportation Department is now asking Congress for help in regulating any and all navigation aids, including the ones found on your smartphone. The proposed transportation bill would give — in writing —  the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration full authority to regulate apps like Google Maps or Waze, setting restrictions and ordering changes to features they feel are too dangerous to drivers.

In a surprise to no one, that automakers are supporting the bill, but not because this might finally put their costly navigation service plans on an even playing field with free apps like Google Maps or Waze — they’re just looking out for everyone’s well being. A spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement:

“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. We believe that if you’re looking at a smaller screen, that’s less effective than looking at a larger screen on the dashboard.”

Aside from the manpower or budget needed to oversee all the many navigation aids offered by the auto industry and company’s like Google, the measure faces other problems. Two years ago a man fought — and won — a ticket he received after a police officer ticketed the man for using a navigation app while driving. The matter reached an appeals court who later reversed the conviction. With the ever changing technological landscape, it’s clear our laws have some further catching up to do.

The highway agency says that once passed, changes to smartphone apps wouldn’t occur anytime soon. Their central focus would, at least for time being, remain on in-dash automotive software. And while it’s unclear exactly what changes, if any, would hit apps like Google Maps, apps like Waze which feature much more user interaction could see many of their social features — like police sighting reports — stripped away (or disabled while driving). With updates to these apps requiring approval from the transportation department, well, it’s easy to imagine these becoming much less frequent.


Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. And I’m guessing they won’t care about those of us who use it walking and riding the bus. And will take out features we like just because somebody else is stupid enough not to pay attention to the road while driving…

    1. Of course; should know by now, politicians’ every action is knee-jerk and reactionary. They never actually think things through, they just look for problems they can create or aggravate, so they can fix them and feel like they saved the day.

      1. Sadly, I think you are being entirely too magnanimous in your view of the politician. I can no longer accept that they are at all interested in feeling like they’ve saved the day. They are simply and ravenously hungry for power. They see a product or service being produced and used that they do not have a hand in controlling and it grates on them. They see a thinly veiled excuse to take the control they want, and so they grab for it. They are a disease and our liberty is deeply infected.

      2. The good thing about Congress is usually laws are slow moving through the system in the first place before it even get’s a chance to come into effect. Slow government in some cases is a good thing so rational people can realize something that’s bad for the nation and stop it from taking hold. At least that’s the theory.

    2. I’ve seen a lot of people who are too stupid to pay attention walking across a street while using their smartphone.

  2. WTF? If the argument is “smaller screens vs. larger screens,” then wouldn’t that apply to people using dedicated GPS systems also? To me, it sounds like the auto industry is just scared of not being able to upsell customers on built in Nav systems. Rather than negate the technology, I’d rather see the Car OEM’s come up with partnerships that’ll allow for smartphone navigation mirroring. I’m sure that with the technology for that type of integration, they’d still be able to make the money that they’re losing out on, selling the dedicated in car Nav systems.

    1. Exactly, if they’re truly concerned about smaller screens vs large screens, then they should let me mirror my smartphone on the in-dash screen.

  3. If you want to regulate, go and regulate the NAV systems on the cars. If NAVs aren’t so useless on cars like bmw, audi, mercedes and infiniti, people wouldn’t have to use google map.

    1. I have zero doubt in my mind that the auto industry would love it if apps like Google Maps and Waze were regulated so they can get more people to use built-in navigation with pricey map updates.

  4. So you won’t be able to use Waze to report speed traps, you’ll have to use other apps, like Tweet, Facebook, etc. Which will get regulated. So you’ll be reduced to group texting. Which will get regulated. So …

    Eventually all we’ll be able to do on a cellphone is make and take phone calls – and it’ll be illegal to talk about anything on the road.

    Orwell was right, he was just 30 years too soon.

    I’m glad I keep backups of all my apks going back to Eclair.

    Oh, does this mean I have to rip out my $2,000 in-dash nav system because it doesn’t conform to some new law? Who’s going to reimburse me for that? Or are ex post facto laws going to become legal?

    The handbasket is on its way.

  5. Well let’s just hope that Google keeps it open source so we can all get what we want even if they’re actually going to try this.

  6. Keep the damn gooberment away from my appz, its enough that in some states I cant buy a condom with a vibrating ring attached to it. The missus shure likes them.

    1. Are you seriously having issues buying condoms in some states? =.P

  7. If these apps would ever be in trouble, hopefully you’d eventually get antitrust cases on what GPS system can be installed on your car led by Google, Apple, and MS, similar to the IE installation on PCs. It’s only a matter of time before you have mobile OS systems in your car anyway.

    To note, you will NOT take away my ability to report traffic conditions, hazards, etc. Google already has this ability (like Google Now, I can just say “ok Google”), and it can be applied to Waze, “ok Waze”.

    Plus, local governments are already handling the issues of GPS. Charleston County says you can use them but destinations must by programmed prior to starting the trip. Stop over-regulating with out direct evidence.

  8. what Automakers need to do is start having built in smartphone/GPS holders in their cars. This would encourage the consumer to dock the phone and use hands free device features….

    1. Assuming there are hands free features readily available. I try that stuff and it rarely works. I find myself looking at the device to see if things are swiping.

      I usually just leave my screen on and swipe my phone screen when listening to music.

      1. I do the same…that’s what I mean…just have built in docks, so instead of fondling my phone..I can just “OK Google…..”

    2. Built in cubby hole just set your phone in, wireless charging and Bluetooth with automatic mirroring to larger in dash screen.

      1. That sounds so reasonably awesome, it’s a wonder why no one has done this yet (to my knowledge). If we can’t have flying cars, at least make them smarter.

        1. Problem is, the feature would naturally only be available for the iPhone.

        2. Because it’s too convenient and cost-effective for users.

        3. Probably because a certain manufacturer of inferior devices used by a minority of people insists on using a non-standard adapter just so they can charge more and give their users an even bigger false sense of superiority.

  9. Big government just wants to control and automakers just want to control b/c people are using there cell phones instead of spending 1500 extra to get there GPS in the cars :)

    1. Mobile devices, like cars, are highly customizable and they can be tweaked and changed to go around restrictions. People have and always will circumvent government control and when it comes to mobile devices that’s even easier to do. The dev community is too large and talented to get choked by any government regulation. Speed trap locations? Not going anywhere.

      Prohibition will always be a great example of failed government restriction. You officially remove something citizens want, they’ll find a way to get what they want.

  10. That’s some BS. If we have to deal with bad updates now, I can only imagine after this.

  11. Darn regulators. They contribute nothing positive to anything. They need to get lost

  12. And if you’re looking at a larger screen on the dashboard, that’s less effective then looking at smaller screen which displays directions in your peripheral vision as it’s mounted on the windshield. A lot can happen when you gaze away from the road to look at your dashboard.

  13. The government totally sucks…
    -Tenacious D

  14. Can the government regulate the minivan full of child distractions? How about cracking down on unsafe trailers/loads? Nope, lets keep blaming GPS maps.

    1. They always blame the easiest and cheapest thing to regulate. They never fix the root of problems, just the symptoms.

    2. or that Big Mac you’re chomping down on. Mmmmmmmm

  15. Really? Looking at a smaller screen is worse? Let me put my TV set on the dash and display my phone’s screen on there. Safe, right?

    That statement proved Chris’s point about their navigation systems :P

  16. Really?! How about they go after vehicles makers for for releasing products with bad parts(GM)!!!

  17. Department of Transportation, or DOT*
    Get it right

  18. This is the stupidest most obvious nanny state idea I’ve ever heard. I have a car with an early nav system in it. From 2003. It won’t let me do anything with it unless I’m not moving. The most annoying thing in the world. There are a lot of idiots that slow down tech for the rest of us. When I’m driving I always use voice commands to get directions. Did that need to be legislated? Just common sense.

  19. Um, but we’ve had GPS devices in our cars for decades, and Maps navigation does the same thing, it’s just more convenient. So it’s obvious the car manufacturers just want their much-easier competition dead.

  20. Isnt a GPS device just a smartphone shaped device that has a mount ? Smartphone meet mount = problem solved. Leave it to govt to overcomplicate a simple thing.

  21. Sounds like auto manufacturers are angry that they can’t keep charging $1,500+ for rarely updated in-dash GPS systems, and they’re pulling levers to get NHTSA to carry their water.

    If the auto manufacturers really cared about this they would let their in-dash screens display the navigation apps running on our cell phones (as I think Honda is doing with the new Fit).

    1. my new Fit doesn’t have that :(

      1. I was a little off – the HondaLink tech available in the 2015 Fit lets you use a $60 Honda app (available in iTunes) on your phone and display the graphics on the car’s in-dash screen.

        So it ain’t Google/Apple maps put on the big screen, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than what automakers have been selling.

    2. Yep that’s exactly what it sounds like.

  22. Good luck. Saving old APKs

  23. SOLUTION: When launching GPS Navigation on your cellphone, the app will ask you if you’re a car-driver? or car-passenger? if you’re a passenger, then there are no restrictions. if you are a driver, then you’ll be restricted to whatever it is they want to restrict…

  24. How bout removing other distractions on our freeways while we are at it. Like billboards. They have distracted me for years and nobody is doing anything about that. Especially the new flashy ones that are pretty much TV screens. And can we finally ban the use of police sirens in radio advertising? Freaks me out every time. Alas we can’t regulate everything and no matter what you do, people are going to do stupid things in their car.

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