It is a common dilemma most drivers have had to deal with: On one hand, your smartphone has very good if imperfect navigation software built into it, like Google Maps, to keep you from getting lost. On the other hand, touching your phone while driving—like when you miss your freeway exit—is a big no-no; even though it isn't strictly prohibited by the law (only texting is), cops will still pull you over for gazing at your phone's screen.
It's a murky gray area, to say the least. Driver safety advocates have been calling for more clarity from federal regulators. That's why, tucked into the Obama administration's new transportation bill proposal, is a provision which would allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set restrictions on app usage in cars, and possibly order changes if something like a mapping app is found to be dangerous.
The New York Times reports that the Transportation Department already has voluntary guidelines in place for companies that make in-car navigation tools, and argue that app-makers, by extension, should feel obligated to abide by its guidelines, too. Per the Times:
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.
According to the Times, "regulators maintain that they already have the authority over navigation aids and merely want it clearly written into law." The DoT mostly already has the support of car manufacturers, "which already mostly comply with voluntary guidelines for built-in navigation systems," whereas technology companies argue that slow-moving, federal restrictions—which are frequently weighed down by bureaucracy—would hinder innovation.
It speaks to the disconnect that occurs while trying to simultaneously regulate a lumbering automotive industry with the fast-moving pace of innovation in Silicon Valley. If anything, though, it might just make the roadways a little bit safer—at least until we get self-driving cars.