The Department of Transportation Wants Drivers to Get Lost

Technology is continually frustrating government regulators. The advance of innovation is so rapid, that slow-moving bureaucracies have had to struggle just to keep up. Of course this hasn’t stopped them from trying. After all, what is the alternative? Letting people enjoy the benefits of new goods and services without interfering or meddling in any way? Obviously, they can’t have that.

After a much publicized assault on phenomenally successful ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, the latest casualty in the war on apps comes in the form of navigation programs operated from smartphones.

The Federal Department of Transportation (an agency whose actual purpose remains obscure) has decided that navigation apps that use GPS to direct drivers to their destinations pose a serious risk to road safety, and must be strictly regulated. This goes hand in hand with the agency’s attempt to criminalize cell phone use while driving, but without benefit of making any logical sense at all.

Yes, navigation apps run through your phone, but there is a world of difference between carrying on a personal conversation while attempting to drive and utilizing an innovative tool that actually makes your driving better.

It’s hard to drive well when you have no idea where you are going, and these apps correct that problem by issuing voice commands to instruct drivers on where to turn and how long to proceed before needing to change course. This allows them to focus on the road ahead instead of worrying about looking around for navigational clues.

The alternative to this system is the one which has been employed for about a century without the need for regulation – paper maps. Anyone who has ever struggled with one of these unwieldy documents from the seat of a fast moving vehicle knows that they are far less safe than a little phone cheerfully offering navigation advice in a pleasant, computerized voice. It is ridiculous for government to try to impede what represents a drastic improvement over the previous system.

This is not really about safety. It’s about control. The new decentralization of knowledge is terrifying to regulators who have long been used to exercising monopoly power. They fear innovations, and anything they don’t understand they have to regulate, and there is little they understand less than the internet and its applications.

The federal government is unequipped to regulate the app market, as the hoary bureaucrats lack the knowledge and expertise to understand how modern technology works, much less devise laws to deal with it. As we have seen so many times, such as in the case of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or the Wire Act, these laws often become obsolete by the time they are passed due to the rapid pace of technological advancement.

The bottom line is that the market for mobile apps is the most agile, innovative, and inspiring source for new solutions to old problems. The feds just need to get out of the way and embrace the wonderful results of free people improving the world all by themselves, without any help from the government.