Stuck in Traffic? Thanks, Obama!: Feds to Regulate Waze, Google Maps, and Other Navigation Apps



The Obama administration wants to cripple the navigation and traffic reporting apps on your smartphone. In the name of safety, of course.

Provisions in the proposed transportation bill—which Congress will look at in the next few months—would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to regulate apps like Google Maps and Waze, the crowdsourced traffic reporting tool. 

They're going to start with automobiles' built-in navigation devices, since regulatory authority is clearer there. Possible "features" include limiting inputs when the car is in motion, or making people click a button saying that they are a passenger.

But of course, if they make the onboard navigation systems in cars suck, people will just turn to their smartphones, right? So they had better regulate those too. 

The impulse to regulate against distracted driving has a long, not terribly glorious pedigree, dating all the way back to efforts to go after people who were changing the radio station while driving. In more recent years, talking and texting bans have failed to show clear positive results and may even cause harm.

Meanwhile, the courts are already working this one out

The underlying issue has already worked its way into the courts. In California, Steven R. Spriggs received a $165 ticket two years ago for using his iPhone while driving in stop-and-go traffic near Fresno. A highway patrol motorcycle officer rolled up alongside his car after seeing the glow from the screen on Mr. Spriggs's face.

"I held it up and said, 'It's a map,' " Mr. Spriggs said. He was not talking on the phone, which is prohibited by California law.

But the police officer would not budge. "He said, 'Pull over, it doesn't matter,' " said Mr. Spriggs, the director of planned giving at California State University, Fresno.

An appeals court ruled this year that it did matter, and Mr. Spriggs's conviction was reversed.

In other breaking news, a group beholden to Congress and run by a former top transpo bureaucrat totally thinks the government should act:

Safety advocates say regulators need to do more.

"We absolutely need to be looking at these nomadic devices," said Deborah A. P. Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, a nonprofit group chartered by Congress, and a former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Reason has covered the government's insatiable desire to regulate apps in the health care arena as well.

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  1. Regulate how? Do they want to make it so the app won’t accept input while moving?

    1. Regulate now, figure out how to do it later.

    2. That’s what I was wondering – they’re not actually trying to regulate the app, they’re trying to regulate the smartphone usage. If that’s the case, the solution is simple. The NSA already knows where your phone is and when it’s in use – if the NSA sees your phone is moving between cell phone towers and is in use you’re obviously using it in your car and they will just mail you a ticket. The NSA can get all its funding from ticketing cell phone-using drivers and point to the number of tickets they’re issuing as proof of what a wonderful, necessary job they’re doing. Millions of lives saved at zero cost to the taxpayer! Who could argue that that’s a bad thing?

      1. I would laugh if that wasn’t so fucking plausible.

        Thanks. Now I’m mad.

      2. Dude, its going to be worse than that – they’ll want to regulate the *accuracy* of the maps and the traffic information you receive. Most likely along with standardizing data formats and the symbology used on the maps.

        Then we’ll end up with the same problem we have today with headlights.

    3. Waze already won’t accept input while moving, unless you tell it you’re the passenger, which is reasonable. It also works with voice control, thanks to the free market, but that doesn’t satisfy Obama’s ban boner.

      1. . . . unless you tell it you’re the passenger, which is reasonable.

        How is this ‘reasonable’.

        Do you consider the ‘enter your date of birth’ checks on websites to be ‘reasonable’ or just a complete waste of everyone’s time.

        Its a pointless, arse-covering, mechanic that is not only as easy to defeat just by, you know, *lying* but actually *increases* the danger to the public.

  2. Safety advocates

    There has to be a more appropriate term. Hmm…

    1. Paid shills. Nobody advocates for safety for free unless it’s some idiot mom whose kid died by virtue of bad luck and worse parenting.

  3. These people need to go fucking die. But they also need to be called out for the racists they are. All they want to do is give cops another reason to justify profiling. Oh, they don’t mean to do that? Too fucking bad. Their policies have a disparate impact on minorities and they push them anyway. That is defacto racism.

  4. Of course what they will do is regulate these things out of business. What they really want is to get rid of the aps that report speed traps and red light cameras.

    1. I also see them removing certain locations from these apps.

      That diner down the street? The one that won’t sell out it’s land to my millionaire crony friend? Yep. Can’t find him on Google Maps anymore.

      They’ll take away half of Americas ability to find anything.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing certain addresses and locations completely blurred or removed from Google Street View.

      1. I’ve seen that but I think in the one instance that I know of they probably switched cars.

        … Hobbit

      2. They’ll remove the White House ’cause terrorists.

      3. Germany actually allows citizens to request Google to censor their property on Street View

        1. Even in the USA, you can always *request* that Google censor your property from Street View. The difference is that here Google can laugh in your face and tell you to go pound sand.

  5. National Safety Council

    Of course this exists.

  6. Fuck off, slavers.

    Also, cut spending.

  7. Possible “features” include limiting inputs when the car is in motion, or making people click a button saying that they are a passenger.

    This is exactly what Waze already does.

    1. They’ll make them do it twice now!


      And CHILDREN!

    2. First the ACA subsidies and now this. What is Obama’s obsession with pinky promises?

    3. This is exactly what Waze already does.

      Obama seems to have a severe learning disability and a distinct lack of curiosity. I assume he’s never actually used Waze, and just learned about Mapquest sometime in the past few months. But suggesting that he is not the best person to decide what 300 million other people should be able to do is racist.

      1. They didn’t put that part in the newspaper article he read about it last week.

      2. We need to regulate it to find out what capabilities are in it. Nancy Pelosi approves.

  8. Satnavs are a huge safety plus, IMO. They make it a hell of a lot easier to concentrate on your driving, rather than constantly looking away and trying to follow your route on a paper map (much harder than looking at a satnav) or slowing down at lots of intersections to read the signs, etc.

    That’s why I have one: especially when driving in unfamiliar cities (or parts of cities), they are just one hell of a lot safer than the alternative.

    I mean, I guess, rather than try to drive myself I could just call Uber or Lyft . . . Oh, wait.

    1. GPS’s (including smartphone versions) yes, Waze I’m not so sure. I used it for a few days and it was distracting as hell. In the first place the whole model is built on users interacting with the app to report slow-downs and whatnot, but even beyond that it created totally gratuitous demands for input whenever I had achieved bullshit milestones like driving 10 miles with Waze active or whatever.

      I’ve also found that interacting with the phone-based apps including Google maps requires a lot more finger precision, and hence a lot more attention, than things like Garmin satnavs which are nicely optimized for “arms length” interaction.

      None of which means I think The Man needs to start getting involved with his regulatin’ ways, but I do suspect some of these are a net negative unless you really do have a passenger operating them.

      1. Been using Waze for a few months, the first few days it was a little awkward, but now it’s just another (extremely useful) part of my long-as-hell commute.

      2. I’ve also found that interacting with the phone-based apps including Google maps requires a lot more finger precision, and hence a lot more attention, than things like Garmin satnavs which are nicely optimized for “arms length” interaction.

        I hate to sound like a paid shill (much to my dismay, I am not), but I have to pimp Nokia’s navigation apps on Windows Phone. They put every other nav app on any platform to absolute shame in terms of both mapping accuracy and a UI that’s optimized for use while driving.

        1. Shilling is only wrong for products that aren’t worth buying.

          1. (Obamacare adverts, for example)

        2. As long as you’re not doing while wearing a set of footsie pajama’s and drinking warm cocoa.

  9. Dammit Obama. You’re terrible enough, but if you fuck with Waze…

  10. An appeals court ruled this year that it did matter, and Mr. Spriggs’s conviction was reversed.

    It’s got to be comforting to know if their shitting all over navigation software doesn’t pan out, ignorant law enforcement professionals will still be pulling drivers over anyway.

  11. “I held it up and said, ‘It’s a map,’ ” Mr. Spriggs said. He was not talking on the phone, which is prohibited by California law.

    But the police officer would not budge.

    Expecting an officer to change his mind based on new information? You’re lucky he didn’t empty a few clips into your car and the ones surrounding it.

    1. Could’ve gone like this too:
      “I thought it was a gun, I feared for my safety, needed to go home that night, etc.”

      Followed by:
      “Our investigations revealed the officer was in no way at fault.”

  12. You know, I used to think that the beheadings during the French Revolution were excessive.

    Not anymore.

    1. Beheadings are tame and PC compared to what i would do, i’m thinking something along the lines of the Spanish inquisition to ensure our elected officials are fucking TERRIFIED to fuck up.
      like jabbing hot pokers into their arms and legs until the entire extremity has been made worthless from mutilation then tie them to horses and let em ride through town until nothing is left but a mangled corpse which will be prominently displayed at the capitol so all future lawmakers understand not to fuck with us.

  13. You know what else distracts drivers? Reading a paper map, or looking around for where to turn, or reading directions they wrote down. GPS with turn by turn navigation is far better and far safer. No requlation required.

  14. “We absolutely need to be looking at these nomadic devices,”

    The word ‘nomadic’ is priceless here, but I didn’t find it in the links.

  15. This doesn’t go anywhere either.…..icles.html

  16. Dude doesnt know what time of day it is.

  17. Just talking to other people in the car can be distracting. I have seen cars with 4 women in them, where the driver MUST turn her head to look at the woman in back, directly into her eyes, whenever she wants to say something to her.

    Maybe we should just ban all talking when the car is in motion.

    1. Or just women drivers?

  18. Next up: paper maps, paperbacks, audiobooks, music, radio, sunglasses, drinking soda/coffee, eating food, conversation, and looking in side mirrors are all too distracting!

    Safety safety safety for your $$$$! NO fee is too high to protect the children! No information is too important to leave off maps! No bullets are too cheap to not be used on violations of terroristic dissidence! No tax is too small! No, peeling fruit twice will not be brought into this conversation!

    Welcome to Obama’s America – where everybody’s a terrorist!

    PS – Just realized something. Obama’s politics is basically that of a 19 year old undergrad who unilaterally believes his communist prof who blamed all the world’s problems on the US and the West. So, because of cell phones, Americans are the real terrorists and the Taliban are innocent freedom fighters…

  19. Does anyone remember Ray LaHood, the Transportation Secretary? The guy who said that people don’t need cars – so he wanted to make it illegal for people in cities to own vehicles? The same guy who wanted to install mileage trackers in cars to make sure they stopped at 300 miles in one day to avoid excessive gas use?

    Wonder if that dude’s finally getting his day?

  20. I deal with NHTSA regs every day in my business. It is impossible to describe how truly evil these people are and how much worse they’ve become during the Obama presidency. Their rulemaking has cost the economy billions but 99% of the population has no idea they even exist. I’m guessing blowback by small businesses against the ever expanding regulatory state has a lot more to do with Trumps victory than “whitelash”.

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