Government seeks to regulate maps apps

apps while driving
The Department of Transportation will issue guidelines on handheld devices behind the wheel.

Will using mobile navigation apps soon join texting-while-driving on the list of government-enforced no-no's for drivers?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently in the process of developing guidelines to address the use of handheld devices behind the wheel. The guidelines are expected to be released later this year.

"Safety is our top priority," the Department of Transportation said in a statement. "We're working to address all forms of distraction to reduce the amount of deaths and ensure drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel."

The move will follow the NHTSA's voluntary distracted driving guidelines released in 2013, which address drivers' use of in-vehicle electronic devices, including GPS navigation tools. News of the impending guidelines for handheld devices has led to speculation about the potential impact on the mobile navigation app market, including the wildly popular Google (GOOG) Maps, Waze, MapQuest and Apple (AAPL) Maps.

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NHTSA maintains that it already has the authority to regulate and recall specific electronic devices, including certain apps on handheld devices, including those that can be considered accessories or additions to vehicles.

NHTSA is not currently planning on introducing mandatory regulations, however. It is seeking, as part of the GROW AMERICA Act transportation bill, to clarify its authority in the area as new technologies develop.

Currently, texting-while-driving is banned in 44 states and Washington, and the use of handheld cell phones while driving is prohibited by 12 states and Washington.

NHTSA's 2013 study on the impact of handheld and hands-free cell phone use while driving found that there is an extreme risk associated with drivers taking their eyes off the road in order to interact with mobile devices.

In April, NHTSA launched an $8.5 million National Distracted Driving Enforcement and Advertising Campaign, including a call-to-action for drivers to power down their electronic devices and put them out of reach while behind the wheel.

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