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Just got a cool new app for your car? Yeah, the NHTSA might not let you use it

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it has the power to regulate mobile devices used in cars.

Earlier this year, the government agency that regulates driving safety issued voluntary guidelines for carmakers to prevent distracted driving. Now, it may do the same for manufacturers of smartphones and other devices.

In a congressional hearing, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland says the agency believes the Motor Vehicle Safety Act gives it the authority to regulate devices used in cars.

The NHTSA’s initial set of voluntary guidelines covered in-vehicle infotainment systems and were designed to curtail distracted driving by limiting what features a driver could use while the vehicle is in motion, setting performance targets that minimized the amount of time a driver needed to perform different functions. However, carmakers aren’t obligated to follow them.

A set of guidelines for smartphones could be drafted along the same lines.

Strickland told the Detroit News that the NHTSA has the authority to regulate phone-based navigation, and any other apps that could be “reasonably expected” to be used in a vehicle.

He said the agency’s ultimate goal is to foster technology that would allow vehicles to block hand-held phone use, requiring drivers to use a hands-free interface like Bluetooth.

Carmakers reportedly support restricting phone use, which is their stated reason for developing infotainment systems like MyFord Touch, Cadillac’s CUE, and Audi’s MMI.

None of these systems have generated rave reviews and many have inspired the ire of frustrated consumers and journalists. However, automakers maintain that these combinations of touchscreen, voice, and click-wheel interfaces are safer than hand-held phones and that drivers will inevitably reach for their phones in the absence of other options.

Clearly, there’s a lot of energy being exerted to get drivers to put down their phones. So why don’t drivers just put down their phones? It would be a lot simpler than drafting new regulations, or developing new technologies, to stop them.

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