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US Transport Department to regulate navigation aids to prevent distracted driving

Published: June 16, 2014 | United States

United States Department of Transportation is intensifying its battle against distracted driving by seeking explicit authority from Congress to regulate navigation aids of all types, including apps on smartphones.

The measure, included in the Obama administration’s proposed transportation bill, would specify that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the authority to set restrictions on the apps and later order changes if they are deemed dangerous, much the way it currently regulates mechanical features of cars.

The measure has the support of automakers, which already mostly comply with voluntary guidelines for built-in navigation systems, but it has run into stiff opposition from technology companies, which say that any such law would be impractical and impossible to enforce.

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Last year, after negotiations with the industry, the Transportation Department released voluntary guidelines for automakers stipulating that any navigation system should not take more than two seconds for a single interaction, and 12 seconds total. At 60 miles an hour, two seconds is 176 feet.

Now the Transportation Department is angling for more leverage in negotiations over electronic distractions, but it says it has no immediate plan to issue rules. The idea is now in the mix of proposals that could end up in the highway bill that Congress is likely to pass in the coming months. Regulators are making the push as navigation apps are proliferating and increasing in sophistication.

The technology industry has also voiced concern that the provision could give regulators the authority to review apps and order changes before they are put on the market, but safety officials said they would not have that power. Instead, they would retain the authority to have an app changed if it was deemed dangerous, in the same way they regulate cars and light trucks.

The highway agency is following a plan to focus first on electronics built into the dashboard, which it began last year with the voluntary guidelines, and now to focus on smartphones and tablets, which can be used virtually anywhere. Regulators convened a public meeting on those this year, before the administration came out with its version of a transportation appropriations bill.

Source: The New York Times

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