NHTSA claims it has the power to regulate portable devices, such as smartphones, in vehicles.

Back in April, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released voluntary guidelines covering the use of in-car infotainment and communications in the hopes that automakers would reconfigure their systems to make them safer. But on Tuesday, NHTSA administrator David Strickland said at a congressional hearing that the administration has the authority to set vehicle smartphone guidelines and will release new voluntary guidelines next year, casting a wider net than the ones released in April, The Detroit News reports. This marks the first time NHTSA has said it has the authority to regulate portable devices, including smartphones, under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Striking a balance between too little and too much regulation is crucial to facilitate technological innovation in vehicles, though automakers reportedly want some sort of official direction from NHTSA. "It is an evolving area of technology. We believe that guidelines gives us the ability to find the margin of safety and still keep innovation," Strickland said in an interview with The Detroit News.

NHTSA will work with device manufacturers, application developers and the telecommunications industry on the implementation of the portable device guideline, "to make sure all of these things are working in the proper zone of safety," according to The Detroit News.