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Should Map Apps Be Regulated In Cars?

A driver holds an iPhone with Google Maps while at a red light. (Steve Garfield/Flickr)
A driver holds an iPhone with Google Maps while at a red light. (Steve Garfield/Flickr)

The U.S. Transportation Department is asking Congress for authority to regulate navigation aids in cars, including apps on smartphones.

It’s part of the department’s effort to clamp down on distracted driving. The measure is included in the Obama Administration’s proposed transportation bill and would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to restrict apps that could make driving more dangerous.

Automakers like the idea, and have already complied with most voluntary guidelines for built-in GPS navigation systems. But tech companies aren’t as happy with the possibility of having their apps regulated. They say federal regulators could end up stifling innovation.

Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council and former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, supports regulating map apps in vehicles.

“At the end of the day, do we want to say, ‘It’s the Wild West and no one should be looking at this, as far as what can go into a vehicle and a driver can use?’ Or do we want someone to be looking out for the rest of us?” she explained to Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Interview Highlights

On what needs to happen

“I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the days of having a paper map, but the thing that it’s important to understand is many of the vehicle mapping systems in cars actually have to meet minimum guidelines about how much time you take your attention away from the road. It can’t be more than two seconds keeping your eyes off the road or more than twelve seconds total. So they’re focused on little bites of snatching your attention away from the road. The two and twelve might not be actually the safest way to go, but at least it’s some standard whereas we have nothing when it comes to nomadic devices.”

On why this is important

“Technology provides a lot of opportunity. Opportunities for risks, as we’ve discussed, but also opportunities for fantastic solutions, and I know that there is a pass forward where people can design things that are more safe. The Department of Transportation is trying to allow some of these systems to be used, but to be used in a more safe way.”

Guest

  • Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council and former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.