Is It Time to Bring Cellphone Map Apps Under Government Control?
Smartphone navigation apps are handy. They're also a distracted driving hazard. Should the government restrict their use to reduce deadly vehicle accidents?
Nearly everyone has a cellphone these days. They're so prevalent that even the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has observed that "the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy."
They are wonderful tools, especially those in the smartphone category, with all their apps. Among the most popular are probably the navigational tools that let drivers get behind the wheel and get to wherever they need to go just by entering in the destination.
The question many safety advocates have started to raise, however, is whether the use of the navigation technology doesn't amount to the same thing as texting and driving or talking on the phone while behind the wheel. As such, they argue that use of cellphones as a directional aid need to be restricted.
Law Isn't Clear on Smartphone Map Use
Logic might seem to dictate that the state laws passed against texting and driving to reduce the number of injury-causing or deadly motor vehicle accidents would already apply to navigation apps on smartphones. But a number of cases that have gone before the courts show that opinions vary.
Take for example the case of California man Steve Spriggs. According to the record of his case, he was pulled over near Fresno by a highway patrol officer who saw him looking at his iPhone while in stop-and-go traffic. Spriggs pointed out that he was using the map function, not texting or talking. He still got a $165 ticket. But an appeals court ruled earlier this year that the distracted driving law didn't apply and reversed Spriggs' conviction.
Considering the difference of opinion in the courts and the growing concerns among safety advocates about the increasing hazards of distracted driving, it should come as no surprise that the U.S. Department of Transportation looks to expand its oversight authority to include smartphone navigation apps.
The agency already claims to have such authority, but in a bid to make it explicit the Obama administration's latest proposed transportation bill puts it in writing. Provisions of the measure include one that would allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to restrict navigational functions on smartphones as mechanical features of a vehicle and require changes if they are found to be dangerous to drivers.
Technology industry officials and digital rights advocates are leery of the language. They say the navigational apps allow for voice commands and offer audible directions so they aren't inherently dangerous. They also say that such a law would be impossible to enforce.
The Risk is Real
The issue is not one to be dismissed lightly. We read about distracted driving disasters nearly every day in the news. The cause of accidents due to such reckless and negligent behavior may be attributable to reading the paper, putting on makeup or attending to a fussy child. But more often these days, the source can be linked to cellphone use.
To give you a sense of just how big a problem distracted driving is, consider that the U.S. Department of Transportation has an entire website dedicated to the issue (www.distraction.gov). The government calls distracted driving a danger of epidemic proportion, responsible for more than 3,300 motor vehicle deaths in 2012 alone.
Just as many individuals don't appreciate how slight distraction can lead to a deadly accident, many who are hurt or lose a loved one in such a crash may be unaware of their rights to seek compensation. To find out what those rights are, they should be contacting an experienced personal injury attorney.