Are Navigation and Mapping Apps Causing Distracted Driving?

While you and millions of others may appreciate the convenience of having navigation and mapping apps as close as your smart phone, not everyone shares that sentiment. If lawmakers have their way, use of these apps may become as closely regulated as talking and texting while driving.

A bill currently pending Congressional approval would vest the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with this regulatory power. Their mission: review navigation apps like Google Maps and enforce changes to reduce the problem of distracted driving.

Not surprisingly, this measure has the support of big business, specifically automobile manufacturers. Their sophisticated but expensive in-dash navigation systems are already subject to NHTSA oversight. Savvy consumers are passing on this option in favor of the far less pricey smart phone apps. Automakers are counting on this legislation to balance the scales in the marketplace.

The popularity of these apps presents a significant roadblock to potential regulation. It’s not a simple matter of governing a couple or even a handful of companies. The market is flooded with mapping apps from hundreds of different sources. Based on the current budget and staff of the NHTSA, reviewing all these apps is a virtually impossible task that’s bound to cause havoc by delaying new products and creating insurmountable obstacles for start-ups.

Actual users of the apps are split as to the necessity for regulation. Some applaud the move, calling it “long overdue” as another step in the battle against distracted driving. Others point out the old-school method of using paper maps to navigate is more cumbersome, placing them at greater risk for distraction. Getting lost, they say, presents even more potential for problems and accidents.

Consider the case of California motorist Steven Spriggs, who was recently stopped by a motorcycle cop for operating his iPhone while driving. Confident that he was well within the law, Spriggs showed the officer that he wasn’t talking or texting but was actually using Apple Maps. The bad news is that he still received a $165 ticket. The good news? He fought the ticket in court and won.

The saga of Steven Spriggs demonstrates a fact about the growth of technology: our laws always lag behind the increasing capabilities. There’s no doubt much more to come in the issue of regulating navigation apps.

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