How Would the Regulation of Navigation Apps Affect the Transportation Industry?

NYlimoservice, westchesterlimoThe U.S. Department of Transportation has entered a bill into Congress that would make it easier to regulate the navigation applications now heavily used throughout the transportation industry. Many ground transportation companies, from limousine services to tour busses, use navigation applications as a method of finding the best routes. Some of these applications are advanced enough to adjust for traffic, avoid highways and go past tolls. They have become ubiquitous in the transportation industry and increased regulation could make it more difficult for companies to continue their use.

A Potential Shift Towards Handheld Devices

Today, many transportation companies use tablets or other mobile devices as their primary means of GPS navigation. The regulation would affect built-in devices, so the tablet would not be able to be mounted. Holding a large tablet could pose as extremely distracting for a driver and would require that the driver take his or her eyes off the road to consult their maps.

Many transportation companies are concerned that the increased regulation of build-in navigation applications may lead drivers towards using handheld devices such as smartphones. Most smartphones come with navigation functionality, but smartphones have some inherent problems: they have smaller, harder to read screens and navigation could be interrupted by phone calls and text messages. This could be very dangerous for both drivers and riders.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Concern for Safety

The U.S. Department of Transportation's stated concerns are primarily about safety. As more navigation apps hit the streets, the department is concerned that unsafe or inaccurate applications may be used by the transportation industry. Though this has not yet become a serious issue, they believe that it may become a problem in the future.

The navigation apps presently available are not controlled by anyone; they can be released by any application development company and could potentially have dangerous bugs and issues. In the past, GPS navigation systems were programmed by only a handful of companies; today, they can be programmed by anyone.

Accidents have been caused by navigation applications and GPS units alike. A 4-car crash was caused in 2010 by a teen driver who was following an app's directions; the app told him to turn left, directly into traffic. A GPS unit prompted a group of Japanese tourists to drive straight into a body of water in 2012.  It is undoubtedly true that both navigation apps and GPS units can be dangerous if not used properly, and this may be what is prompting the U.S. Department of Transportation to act.

The Potential for Regulatory Abuse

Despite this concern for safety, others are worried that increased regulation will open a door that cannot be closed. Free map services, such as Google and Apple's maps, could potentially be banned and replaced with higher cost, regulated applications, such as GPS units intentionally designed for use by ground transportation companies. There is, as yet, no evidence that these popular map applications are any less accurate than the more traditional, mounted satellite GPS units that have been in use for many years.

Finally, it is worth it to note that the U.S. Department of Transportation already technically has the right to regulate these devices; it is simply petitioning the Congress to further solidify this right and make regulation easier. Even without this bill, the U.S. Department of Transportation still has some level of control over navigation applications and can act to increase regulation.

Posted on Jul 02 2014

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