Feds Whack Map Apps

Got directions?


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 would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to regulate apps like Google Maps and Waze, the crowd- sourced traffic reporting tool. Congress passed stopgap transportation funding for the next 10 months in July, but more significant reforms are still under debate.

Regulators plan 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 users click a button declaring themselves passengers.

But useless onboard navigation systems mean drivers will turn to their smartphones, so the feds are looking to slap some new rules on those too. The impulse to make rules against distracted driving has a long and not terribly glorious pedigree, dating back to efforts to stop fiddling with the dial when radios first started appearing in cars. In recent years, talking and texting bans have become increasingly popular, but have failed to show clear positive results and may even cause harm. (See "Text Ban Fail," below.)

In related news, a group beholden to Congress and run by a former top transportation bureaucrat strongly believes that the government should act. "We absolutely need to be looking at these nomadic devices," Deborah A.P. Hersman-president of the congressionally chartered nonprofit the National Safety Council, and a former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board-told The New York Times in June.