The Grow America Act, a new bill proposed  by the Obama administration, may give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the power to regulate popular navigation apps like Google Maps -- a possibility that's already proving divisive in the professional community.

The government aims to clamp down on distracted driving, and navigation apps compel drivers to look at their smartphones while they're behind the wheel, which is a possible safety hazard on roads.

The Department of Transportation, the NHTSA's parent organization, confirmed in a statement that safety is their primary concern above all else with the proposed legislation, CNN reported earlier this month.

"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 agency told the news outlet.

Multiple automakers support the legislation, and many of them already comply with voluntary guidelines for built-in navigation systems designed for vehicles they sell.

Technology workers and digital rights advocates don't share those sentiments, for various reasons.

Timothy McGucklin, CEO of GeoToll, blogged about the law's potential to impede technological innovation.

"Anything that prescribes what we can download to our smartphones, tablets or cars isn't just overreach, it thwarts innovations," he wrote.

Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, says it would be extremely difficult to enforce the legislation with navigation apps built into millions of smartphones automatically.

"Does their regulatory status change in car? How the heck would anyone monitor that?" he told The New York Times.

The government's move seems to indicate that it wants a say in the evolution of consumer technology, but it remains to be seen how much of a say that will ultimately be.

The White House sent  the Grow America Act to Congress in April, but various congressmen have their own transportation bills underway -- and everyone must debate, deliberate and compromise the disparate writings before anything is signed into law.

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer
Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.