By on June 16, 2014

Waze-navigation-app

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration’s proposed transportation bill would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explicit authority to regulate in-vehicle navigation aids of all types. The regulations would not just apply to built in navigation systems as the legislation would also give NHTSA authority to regulate smartphone apps when used in a vehicle. While drivers and technology companies might object, the proposals have the endorsement of the major car companies who already comply with the agency’s voluntary guidelines for factory installed nav systems that restrict driver contact with those systems.

Representatives for the tech industry say that the legislation is not workable nor enforceable. “[Regulators] don’t have enough software engineers,” said Catherine McCullough, executive director of the Intelligent Car Coalition, a technology industry trade group. “They don’t have the budget or the structure to oversee both Silicon Valley and the auto industry.”

On its part, NHTSA regulators say that they already have the authority to control in-car navigation aids, which raises the question as to why they want it made statutory law.

Former NHTSA administrator David L. Strickland, has twice testified before Congress with the agency’s position that nav systems, including smartphone nav apps, could be “classified as motor vehicle equipment” like some other electronic car accessories. In response, the electronics industry said that there’s a broad difference between a smart key and a smartphone.

One concern of regulators are smartphone apps that merge navigation information with social networking. Waze, which is owned by Google, uses a network of users to report, in real time, traffic and road conditions, hazards and the location of police cars. The Waze user agreement and the app interface prohibits the sending of messages to their network when the car is in motion, but that can be overridden by indicating that a passenger is entering the data.

Navigation and mapping are important parts of the business plans of large tech companies like Apple and Google. Both of those companies use data and contextual information gathered from users to augment search functions and other applications.

Tech companies have fears that the new legislation would give NHTSA the power to review smartphone apps before they go on sale, but NHTSA claims that in the same way they regulate cars and light trucks, they would have the authority to have an app modified if it was found to be dangerous. Considering all of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that automakers must meet before they sell a vehicle, the tech companies’ concerns may be well warranted.

Then there is the practical aspect of enforcement. Harold Feld, of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group, asked that with some kind of map application on nearly every smartphone available in the United States, “Does their regulatory status change in a car? How the heck would anyone monitor that?”

Safety advocates and regulators respond that unless there are uniform regulations for all navigation aids used in cars, people will not use the regulated built-in devices and instead use their own hand-held devices, introducing the possibility of distracted driving. That position is supported by the automakers. “If you put restrictions on the built-in systems designed to be used while driving, it’s going to encourage people to use hand-held devices that are not optimal for use by a driver,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “We believe that if you’re looking at a smaller screen, that’s less effective than looking at a larger screen on the dashboard.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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56 Comments on “Obama Administration’s Transportation Bill Would Give NHTSA Power to Regulate Smartphone Apps...”


  • avatar
    morbo

    Empire building. Sounds like a fed hungry to build himself an empire over at NHSTA.

    This won’t end well. The empire builder will be long gone before the horrible consequences of running software regulation from an automotive organization is realized.

    If this were actually an issue, liability laws and/or letting Comemrce/Justice deal with ‘app’ based nav would be a better solution; Commerce at least (should) have software people on staff familiar with smartphones.

  • avatar
    carrya1911

    I think we have quite enough regulation and don’t really require any more.

  • avatar
    the_yeti

    Waze is the greatest navigation app there is. Saved me 2 speeding tickets yesterday alone. Plus, you can Google search your destination. My in car nav requires an address. Who the hell knows the address of the closest Starbucks ?

    OnStar is kinda awesome, but not at $24 a month. You can call and ask for directions and they send them to you, but all they are doing is Googeling it for you. Not work $24 a month.

    I am still in my free Trial of Onstar. I make sure that I call once a week to ask for directions “The Closest Black Bear Diner”. My Onstar history is now full of trips to Black Bear Diner. I dont usually go there once I find out where the closest one is, but its good to know that there is one nearby.

    Waze on the other hand, when I start the App in the evening, it says “Good Evening, are you on your way home” and automatically routes me home.

  • avatar
    VCplayer

    I’m so glad to hear that the government is going to save us poor motorists from the plague of accidents caused by people using smartphone apps.

  • avatar
    Joe B

    This is the quote that gets me:

    “Safety advocates and regulators respond that unless there are uniform regulations for all navigation aids used in cars, people will not use the regulated built-in devices and instead use their own hand-held devices, introducing the possibility of distracted driving.”

    They realize the regulations are making the built in devices so difficult to use or useless, that people will use alternative devices. Their solution isn’t to modify the regulations to a more sensible level, but to attempt to break all alternative devices as well.

    • 0 avatar
      rba86

      There is a similar effect on gas cans. There’s a great article[0] called “Five Years of Gas-Can Hell” that explains how gas cans have become more difficult to use due to relatively recent regulation. The regulations that are supposed to prevent spilling have made new cans more difficult to use and more likely to create larger spills.

      But, you can still buy the old ones if they’re blue and labelled as “Potable Water”…

      [0]: http://tucker.liberty.me/2014/06/10/why-your-new-gas-can-is-ridiculous-and-evil/

  • avatar
    multicam

    Whatever. I’ll just jailbreak my way around whatever serious issues these regulations cause. If I don’t like Apple having complete authority over what software I put on my phone, I’m certainly not going to give the government that power.

  • avatar
    cartunez

    Just remember when technology becomes slow and pointless that… The government is here to help. Say like Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well this is “regulatory capture 101>” Of course the car companies think this is a great idea — not because they’re concerned about their customers’ safety but because its a huge barrier to entry to competitors for the massively over-priced in-car systems. Every competing produce will have to be NHTSA-approved before Apple or anyone is allowed to sell it to their mobile device customers.

    So, thanks to the B&B, I learn about Waze. Sounds like I gotta check it out.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      Waze is integral to surviving the ‘Murrilend’ side of the commute.

      Or the K downtown DC (K Street) side of the commute.

      Or the Falls Church or Fairfax side of the commute.

      Basically the DC commutes sucks b@lls and Waze is a godsend.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      I was thinking the same thing about that last paragraph, with a dose of “Baptists and Bootleggers” for good measure.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      Waze is terrific DC Bruce. After seeing what it could do, I broke down and ordered one of those “cellular telephones” I keep reading about. It can apparently judge when its time to pull off the freeway and take a surface street. Asa passenger, I just loved clicking in the little road obstructions and better yet, speed traps. It seems to burn through a lot of data, though and it uses a lot of power.

      I don’t know why anyone would deal with a silly built in navigation system for the long bucks anymore than they would deal with a built in cellular telephone.

    • 0 avatar
      rba86

      Yes, sir! I think that at least some of the motive behind the GM ignition recalls is to “progress” towards regulation that requires push-button start. Which, as you say, will be a larger barrier to entry and competition.

  • avatar
    Joebaldheadedgranny

    What is it with this Cult of Safety? Do we really believe the Federal government will add one iota of value in this arena? Do we really have so little to worry about we have to manufacture problems for ourselves for which bigger government is the only tonic?

  • avatar
    mcs

    Hmm, new addition to startup screen: “For Off-road Use Only – Not approved by NHTSA for road vehicles”. There, problem solved. No user would dare violate a start screen warning.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I realize many people work in a presidential administration, but I’m happy some of them took the time from the major crises in Ukraine, Iraq, and here at home, to craft such important legislation.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s like doing an exam. If you find a question too difficult, skip it and tackle something easier. Maybe inspiration will come for the more challenging tasks later. Hopefully before the bell.

      The administration can only do what it is capable of. Monkeying around.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      to be fair, the ones dealing with the international crises are state and DoD, the ones dealing with this are DoT and maybe commerce. Four completely different organizations with different goals and personnel.

      So nobody who would have been working on Iraq or Ukraine was pulled off of their jobs to help handcuff your smartphone nav apps.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    …. And another opportunity for government officials to accept legal bribes is born. Just how much will Google, Apple, Garmin, etc. have to pay for lobbying efforts to get their flavor of ‘safe navigation’ stamped legal?

    Anyone who sees this other than a chance for more government/industry dependency and pay to play hasn’t been paying attention.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Contemplating the 4 1/2 year long health insurance web-based sign-up sheet debacle, I have to ask what could possibly go wrong with a simpler task like this? I’d rather not find out.
    Like most Americans, I used to trust government’s relative competence. My trust has completely eroded over the past 25 years under D and R presidents alike.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      What 4 1/2 year long debacle? You mean the one where the states refused to create their own website and the ‘debacle’ of difficulty lasted a little over a month….Oh yes, that one. Please try and use facts next time you want to make an argument.

      I always appreciate when people express their simplistic views. It gives me a chance to point out that they’re inherent desire to have their views satiated is usually wrong because they would prefer to focus on their agenda than reality.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Orange Gatorade satiates my views real good.

        You can’t seriously expect us to accept your claim to being a “professional historian” with the grammar and vocabulary you display here.

        Many of us read real historians.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          I don’t particularly care what you accept, Kenny. I’ve found your views to be utterly lacking and frankly your attack on my grammar and vocabulary to be laughable. I mean, really, my vocabulary?

          Also, I’m a professional Historian and a professional Political Scientist. Yet if I agreed with your political outlook you would be uplifting me as your own personal hero. Don’t confuse your partisan views with the reality of my profession. I can appreciate you despise my authoritative understanding of the underpinnings of the arguments because you’re both partisan and mildly incompetent. But lets try and keep the slinging of mud to a minimum.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            I’m a brain surgeon and a fry cook!

            No, wait, that was last week.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to imply, if you read my comments over the past few years you would know I hold a BA & MA in History and a PhD in Political Science.

            But don’t let those facts get in the way of your petulant whining.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            *gasp*..Oh, my Lordy..*wheeze*.. I just have to stop winding you up.

            I was just using an old Jethro trope from the Beverly Hillbillies. I knew you were too young to get it but I used it anyway.

            Wicked, evil fridge, I.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Ah you are indeed wicked, although the blender is wanted for war crimes in Darfur.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            I shall atone by watching “Avatar” a second time.

            Every brony-faced-heroine second of it.

  • avatar
    jmo

    It seems like a perfect example of regulatory capture.

  • avatar
    hiptech

    Things just keep getting better and better here in the good old USA…

    Wait… you hear that? It’s the sound of our founding fathers turning in their graves.

    Just think if it’s this bad now, wait till we are all driving around in our autonomous cars and the government decides to “terminate with extreme prejudice” the occupants because they incorrectly determined they (you) were a threat… “Oops my bad” maybe the last thing you see on your display screen before everything goes dark.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    Right-wing anti-regulation writer writes argument about regulation and the regulars sing to the choir. Watch out!

    Technically making it statutory law actually makes it easier for the NHTSA to increase funding and get aid from law enforcement to supply the needed manpower when required. If anything the excessive use of cell phones for GPS and what not has created a distracted driver situation and as newer cars phase-in in-dash screens this should be less of an issue. There is no reason not to let the larger screen do the job while accepting your phone’s data connection.

    It just sounds like the government is trying to keep up with the times but the anti-regulation beat keepers are droning on about the loss of ‘Freedom’ and how they live in this unbearable totalitarian state….

    • 0 avatar

      I believe that there’s some confirmation bias at play here. This was a by-the-numbers summary of the New York Times article, hardly a right wing anti-regulation source. My piece has no more of a political slant to it than Damon Lavrinc’s on the same NYT piece over at Jalopnik.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Completely off topic but Ronnie you’re known for well researched, well written, in depth journalism. How about a piece on how crash safety has evolved over the last thirty five or forty years? I would find this to be interesting reading.

        • 0 avatar

          I’ll put it on the list of possible topics. Guys like Xeraner probably wouldn’t like the results because I’ve yet to find an automotive safety technology that has come out of a non-military government agency. Bela Barenyi at Mercedes-Benz invented crash zones, Nils Bohlin at Volvo developed the three point harness (and Volvo gave away the patent), GM developed airbags. Ford introduced the breakaway steering wheel in the mid 1950s. If someone could point me to a safety technology in use today that was invented by a non-military government agency, I’d appreciate it.

          While the 1968 FMVSS first required collapsible steering columns, they’d been around since the 1930s. GM has over 15,000 U.S. patents relating to collapsible steering columns, Ford has over 12,000, and Toyota and Chrysler each have over 7,000 related patents.

          Sometimes I think that the EPA and DOT should be more like the Lawrence Livermore lab, or how NASA was, instead of being the environmental and safety cops.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Good stuff, hope you can find the time to elaborate more on the topic. Thx.

            What inspired my request was the 85 Eldo article which put me back in old Cadillac mode. I started researching 4100 swaps again and found an old website I read years ago about a guy doing Olds 350 and Olds 403 swaps into the first gen E-body Eldos, gets me thinking “yes me too”. Then of course though, what is the crash safety like in an MY83 Eldo…

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            ‘Guys like Xeranar’ is the opening to a strawman, I’m going to assume you really didn’t mean it as a strawman and move on.

            So your actual argument is because the regulatory agency didn’t invent the actual object being used they aren’t a worthwhile venture? I would call your argument irrelevant but that is too simple (even if true). What you’re actually trying to claim is that by definition only the inventor of the product is a worthwhile entity when the regulator of such a product is not. That then begs the question, why bother with anything? The objects you listed were invented and in limited use until they were regulated into every vehicle. Even today if those standard safety features weren’t regulated in we would see low priced economy cars with little or no safety features. It just means that inventions occur freely in this society and that it requires regulators to make them widespread or used at all.

            Before you retort with a remark about the free market, please think before you leap, you aren’t going to find a solid historical point that would argue that the free market would have added an airbag to every vehicle on the road built after the regulatory requirement. It simply amounts to an argument where you turn towards scientific achievement and claim it as capitalism when they share a best a correlation and not a causation.

            By the way, I don’t really care who invents it, guys like me want it to be safe, I’m not a fan of pointless regulation that does little to help people but I’m not going to cut off the hands of the men who regulate just because they fail to be perfect.

            EDIT: This struck me just now, can we stop the all or nothing approach? Why is it I have to be for absolute regulation of everything and you want nothing but the wit of your mind and skin of your teeth? Perhaps I’m not actually for absolute regulation (which I’m not) but instead rather for smart and effective regulation that requires the government to have the ability to regulate as needed instead of being told that it infringes on some theoretical ‘freedom’ to be killed by faulty products and distracted driving. I refuse to conform to your argument where you’re some ‘Freedom fighter’ and I want to control your life, the world is a far more complex beast than that simplistic view, instead I ask you to justify why we should have no regulation in an honest way because it seems your alternative will inevitably get more people killed.

    • 0 avatar
      VCplayer

      Do we actually have proof that map apps (or cell phones in general) have caused any increase in accidents? I would like it if we answered that question before writing more law/regulations.

    • 0 avatar
      Sky_Render

      Guys, Xeranar is a professional political scientist and has several advanced degrees. He’s clearly smarter than all of us.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        Well, I wouldn’t say I’m smarter, that’s an irrelevant and mildly subjective answer. If anything, I’m better educated on the actual rules and system we live in than the lay person. So when you want to discuss policy you’re going to have a harder time proving your case because my wisdom is proportionally greater than your’s on the matter. Just as I wouldn’t presume to tell a skilled masonry worker how to lay a wall I would expect a modicum of respect for my knowledge on the matters of politics.

        But that doesn’t really apply when partisanship gets involved, does it?

  • avatar

    One wonders where this will end up going….

    First its navigation apps. Regulate them.

    Next the use of Bluetooth for Hands Free Dialing and calls. Regulate it.

    Next the use of Bluetooth or USB playing of music. Regulate it.

    Next the reading of text messages to the driver. Regulate it.

    Use of camera on phone while driving. regulate it.

    Windshield, air vent or cupholder mounting devices for cell phones. Of course they need regulating.

    IS there any part of the phones functions that will be free of NHTSA regulation? Probably not.

    So who exactly regulates cell phones? The FCC or the NHTSA? Will they fight each other to sue cell phone owners for violating their contradictory regulations?

    AY ay ay ay ay!!

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    ““We believe that if you’re looking at a smaller screen, that’s less effective than looking at a larger screen on the dashboard.”

    So, this is a “size matters” issue? Whatever, I’m in favor of any roundabout way they can come up with to prevent at least *some* cell phone use in cars.

    Go Obama! Beat Tech!

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      As universally incompetent and idiotic as Dimbulb-In-Chied is, this one isn’t really fair to pin on him. I doubt he even knows Waze exists, considering he spends his driving time in the back seat of armored limos.

      Rather, the problem lies with usurption of civilian life by the legal profession. Car makers, who would n naturally be in an ideal position to put their preferred products in front of drivers (like Apple in on Iphone, Google on Andriod and MS on Windows), are de facto barred from much innovation, due to them being “deep pockets”, easy to drag into lawsuits for any trumped up reason ostensibly related to what they sell. While independent developers don’t have to worry nearly as much about that.

      Now, combine that with the, as always idiotic, progressive notion that government should cooperate with “industry” in shaping regulation, and you end up with the biggest players pushing hard to create a “level playing field” the only way they can; by dragging everyone else down to their level.

      Solution, again as always, is to get rid of any and all ability to sue and win over “product liability” issues, unless you can first obtain a conviction for criminal negligence and/or malevolence. Then, create a complete brick wall between government and any potential outside influences.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Ah, motoring Americans, out on the road … “the Road to Serfdom”. No U-turns allowed!

    I have to wonder if Xeranar ever met a government law, regulation, diktat or intrustion he didn’t like.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Sure, I don’t like anti-abortion roadblock laws. I don’t like regulatory loopholes put in my big lobbying agents. I don’t care for the Citizens United decision. I don’t particularly care for the deregulation laws that don’t provide for effective competitive enticements.

      I could go on, just because I don’t see a fascist agenda ‘road to serfdom’ in the basic legal change to a minor aspect of driving doesn’t mean I am a blind zealot of government authority. I believe in using it as an instrument to level the playing field, you believe otherwise, welcome to partisan politics.

      • 0 avatar

        Government is force. Government has a monopoly on violence. You’d use that force and violence to compel others to usher in your own messianic vision.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          And you would seek an anarchistic answer? Perhaps one where your views are subjectively placed on top because of your agreement with those who have the wealth?

          Can we skip the weak hyperbole. If you want to remark that I called you right-wing for your right-wing politics prematurely, so be it, but lets not pretend your way is somehow going to end up roses for the rest of us.

          I understand you’re of the right-wing libertarian sort, perhaps not an open follower of the Pauls, but it certainly seems your politics trend that direction. Yet you have largely been able to reach this pinnacle because the people who came before you rejected the Pauls’ point of view to maintain a more equitable society.

          I’m actually for competition within capitalism since then we do get greater benefit for society, the problem is the motivations and mechanizations outside of government rarely lead to that, in fact as industries mature they consolidate, hence our current crop of tech giants is simply another example in the long order of history. There is a reason only 3 major automakers survived.

          But again, I thought you only overstepped it with the issue of statutory laws versus regulatory control. But if you want to trade barbs on political theory, we’re welcome to go a few rounds.

        • 0 avatar
          cartunez

          The real issue is the Xeranar’s of the world don’t understand that some people want the freedom to choose for themselves. Freedom doesn’t mean do want you want without accountability. Freedom actually puts more of a burden on the individual to make more informed decisions and to actually understand issues. The sad thing is these people are willing to give up everything for the illusion of safety. The antics of the government under the guise of keeping you safe are hilarious. From TSA, DEA, EPA, USDA etc etc it’s all about force and limited choice under the mask of “it’s for your own good”.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            Again with the strawmen, if you want to equate me with some fantastical authoritarian society atleast ask me first before lumping me in. Clearly I am simply not this authoritarian you so desperately wish I was, then you could act out all your tragic hero of freedom fantasies on that.

            I would point out that while I agree the TSA serves very little use in actual protection the USDA & EPA are tremendous examples of keeping both our food supply and environment protected. Until both of those came into existence our food supply was notoriously spotty in the cities and any place removed from small farms and markets. In the case of the EPA we live in a much cleaner society because of it, arguably it pushed the worst polluters to third world countries but that is an international matter that has more to do with industrialists seeking to avoid regulation for their profit margins than anything to do with a fundamental aspect of society.

            But I have to say you’re more of a shame to underdog than anything. You argue that you can hold the power to protect yourself but remove the USDA & EPA and see how quickly you begin to suffer from rancid foods and disgusting air and water.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    Skip trying to regulate apps. It’s futile.

    Instead, if someone crashes and it is found that they were either yapping on the phone or poking at a screen, add “gross negligence causing …” on top of whatever else happened because of the crash.

    Where I’m from, there are laws against using handheld devices while driving, but they aren’t needed, because even before that law showed up, talking on the phone or poking at a screen while driving equals “driving without due care and attention” and that equals “careless driving”, had the cops bothered to enforce it (which was the real problem with that).

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    And this government’s overreach continues


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