Distracted Driving – Regulating the Electronic Navigation Systems that Distract Drivers


Having a map spread across the steering wheel of your moving vehicle is and always has been a major distraction. Today, many drivers rely on electronic navigation tools in cars and apps on their smartphones to find their destination. These gadgets may be distracting as well and, like maps, can lead to distracted driving accidents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation would like to have control over electronic navigation systems in vehicles to reduce the number of driver distractions in vehicles and to make us safer, according to the agency. But not everyone is convinced the DOT should have such a power.

Can the NHTSA handle navigation app regulations?

According to a measure proposed in the latest transportation bill, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would have the authority to set restrictions on navigational apps and equipment and order changes at a later date if such apps are deemed dangerous.

Some say the federal government simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with the technology, however, and such regulation would cause significant headaches for technology companies.

According to the New York Times, automakers appear to support the measure, as many of them are already ahead of the curve in offering built-in navigation systems that meet existing voluntary regulations. It’s the tech companies who say the NHTSA control is impractical. Catherine McCullough of the Intelligent Car Coalition says the NHTSA doesn’t have the budget or the structure to regulate the tech and auto companies.

Distracted driving laws and navigational apps

Currently, using your Google Maps or GPS system exists in a gray area of distracted driving laws. You’re not technically texting or emailing someone, though your actions are pretty similar when you input an address and repeatedly look down at the display as you drive.

Police who pull someone over may ticket them, but such a citation might not hold up in court. In Georgia, for example, texting is banned, but hand-held cell phone use is not. Arguably, you could use your navigation system. But, when it comes right down to it—navigating with electronics is an electronic distraction.

Navigation tools can be very distracting

There are three types of distractions for drivers, according to the NHTSA.

  • Visual distractions take your eyes off the road;
  • Cognitive distractions take your mind off the road;
  • Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel.

GPS systems in vehicles and navigation apps involve all three types of distraction—visual, cognitive and manual distractions. They can put you and those around you at a greater risk of being involved in an accident.

The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reports that in one year about 80% of auto accidents involved some type of distraction. That research also indicated that drivers who engage in the most distracting activities (using navigation tools, for instance) are those most likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash.

Use navigation systems safely

Not everyone can agree on what needs to be done to reduce the risks of distraction-related accidents involving navigational tools. However, we can all agree that these tools have the potential to be dangerous.

If you use a navigation system while driving, use it safely.

  • Input your destination and set up your route before leaving your driveway or parking space
  • If you have to change something in the system, pull over to a safe area before doing so
  • Mount your phone or GPS system on your dash or windshield to avoid having to look down repeatedly

Whether or not the NHTSA steps in to regulate navigation apps and tools, you can keep yourself safe.