Steven Spriggs was pulled over by a motorcycle cop for using his iPhone while driving. He immediately held it up to show the officer that he was using Apple Maps, and not talking or texting. More about Mr. Spriggs later. With approval of the pending transportation bill in Congress, smartphone maps and navigation will be regulated. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would receive the power to regulate apps like Google Maps or Apple Maps. NHTSA’s job would be to review navigation apps and order changes to decrease driver distractibility.
Guess who is in favor of this new regulation for smartphone apps? Automakers. Embedded navigation systems, those found in the dashboard of vehicles, are already regulated by NHTSA. Smartphone navigation apps are a much cheaper option than the systems offered by automakers, who are looking for a more level playing field and a way to slow down the smartphone navigation juggernaut.
The downside to this regulation is big. If it was just Apple and Google mapping, oversight would be simpler, but Apple App Store and Google Play Store are filled with hundreds of mapping and navigation apps. Logistically it doesn’t seem possible for the NHTSA to review all of the apps efficiently without causing interference in the market. NHTSA doesn’t currently have the budget, infrastructure or staffing to be successful.
The forum of the radio show “Car Talk” is alive with discussion on NHTSA’s desire to control navigation. The vast majority of posters point out the distraction from using a paper map or being lost. “Personally, I prefer a full-sized road atlas on the seat beside me for all my navigation needs. Taking occasional readings with a sextant helps, but is difficult while eating my Big Mac and holding the wheel with my knee,” Paul Carney writes with sarcasm. On the other side, Victor Cooper responds, “YES! It is long overdue. And I think it is about time we treat texting while driving the same as we do drunk driving…criminal penalties and all.”
I think regulation on mapping and navigation may help make the apps simpler to use and less distracting. Before passing a regulatory law, I’d like NHTSA to successfully demonstrate a review system that doesn’t impede innovation, significantly delay new products, or make it overwhelming difficult for small start-ups.
So what happened to Steven Spriggs? The police officer went ahead and wrote a $165 ticket for using a cell phone while driving, despite Spriggs argument that the law didn’t apply to navigation apps. Spriggs challenged his ticket in California’s state appeal court and won. The $165 went back into Spriggs’ pocket and map users everywhere sighed with relief,