navigation app regulation

Tech and Safety Groups Differ on Navigation App Regulation

Federal agencies are looking to make highways safer by tightening regulations for navigation apps. While technology groups tout the benefits of map apps, auto-safety organizations say cellphone use on the road is dangerous—no matter the function.

Congress and federal watchdogs are turning their attention to the likes of Google Maps and other mobile phone navigation offerings.

Under the proposed GROW AMERICA Act, which is making its way through Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation would have broad powers to “prescribe requirements or guidelines for the design, functional safety process, verification and validation and development of safety-related electronics or software used in motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment to ensure that they are likely to function as intended and contain fail safe features.”

But not everyone’s hopping on board.

“They [DoT] don’t have enough software engineers. They don’t have the budget or the structure to oversee both Silicon Valley and the auto industry,” Catherine McCullough, executive director of the Intelligent Car Coalition, told The New York Times.

And the CEO of GeoToll, which makes a mobile toll-payment app, suggested in The Hill earlier this year that regulators may overreach.

“Given the challenges of regulating a moving target, and facing the impracticality of creating regulations that can keep up, my fear is that the agency will choose to promulgate blanket regulations,” Timothy McGuckin wrote.

The State of Distracted Driving

Previously, regulatory efforts have been focused on cellphone communication, whether it be texting or calling. Distracted driving became the target of federal awareness campaigns, and states acted even more vigorously to curtail cellphone use behind the wheel.

As of June 2014, 44 states and the District of Columbia have banned text-messaging while driving, and 13 states plus D.C. prohibit handheld cellphone use.

Multiple nonprofits have led the fight against distracted driving, including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

Though these organizations agree about the dangers of distracted driving, findings about the impact of cellphone use on the road vary from study to study.

“There is a disconnect between estimated crashes due to cellphone use and real-world crash trends, which indicate that crashes have been declining in recent years, even as driver phone use has increased,” IIHS states.

But AHAS cites two studies that paint a more dire picture—that use of a mobile phone, regardless of whether it’s handheld or hands-free, makes the risk of a crash “as much as four times higher.”

It’s Not Just Navigation

Mobile map apps wouldn’t be the first smartphone features to be regulated by the federal government. Given the wide range of medical apps, the Food and Drug Administration has developed guidelines defining which ones it will regulate, based on whether they meet the definition of a medical device. These include apps used to diagnose medical conditions or assist in the treatment, prevention, or cure of any disease, FDA says.

But legislation is springing up to place tighter restrictions on what technologies the agency can regulate.

“As these technologies develop, it’s critical to implement a clear, risk-based framework that would protect patient health and ensure FDA rules are appropriately targeted to support and not stifle innovation,” PROTECT Act [PDF] cosponsor Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said in a statement earlier this year.

Organizations like the mHealth Regulatory Coalition and the Software and Information Industry Association support the PROTECT Act to remedy their concerns with FDA regulations.

The current regulatory structure “focuses on traditional discrete devices manufactured at a single site and physically shipped to distributors and users,” SIIA President Ken Wasch said a statement. “With the rise of networked ecosystems and sophisticated software, this paradigm does not encourage today’s innovations, let alone tomorrow’s.”


Morgan Little

By Morgan Little

Morgan Little is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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