ARRL Executive Committee Adopts Mobile Amateur Radio Operation Policy

ARRL Executive Committee Adopts Mobile Amateur Radio Operation Policy

10/14/2014The ARRL Executive Committee adopted an updated Policy Statement on Amateur Radio mobile operation during its October 4 meeting in Memphis. While agreeing that driver inattention is a leading cause of auto accidents and that concern over driver distraction “is not unreasonable,” the policy cites Amateur Radio’s 70-year history of two-way mobile operation as evidence that such radio use does not contribute to driver inattention. The policy points out that Amateur Radio operation differs from cell phone communication, in part because the device need not be held to the face to listen, no text messaging is involved, and mobile ham operators only need to pick up a microphone to make “brief and infrequent” transmissions.

Prompting the policy update is the 2012 federal law “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” or MAP-21, which requires states to enact and enforce statutes that prohibit “texting through a personal wireless communications device while driving” in order to qualify for federal grants to support a state’s program. The League “encourages the use of the language in MAP-21 in state statutes and municipal ordinances dealing with mobile telephone and mobile text-messaging limitations,” the updated policy states.

Many states already have statutes in place that restrict the use of cell phones and other communication devices to a greater or lesser degree, and several exempt Amateur Radio. A lot of these laws predate MAP-21, however, and because MAP-21 permits no specific exception for Amateur Radio operation, some may need to be revised in order to comply with its requirements. The ARRL is urging states or localities to adopt motor vehicle codes that narrowly define the class of regulated devices, in order to exclude Amateur Radio specifically.

“Given the necessity of unrestricted mobile Amateur Radio communications in order for the benefits of Amateur Radio to the public to continue to be realized, ARRL urges state and municipal legislators considering restrictions on mobile cellular telephone operation and mobile text messaging to narrowly define the class of devices included in the regulation, so that the class includes only full-duplex wireless telephones and related hand-held or portable equipment,” the League policy recommends.

The ARRL policy suggests statutory language for state and local motor vehicle codes that defines a “personal wireless communications device” as one through which “commercial mobile services, unlicensed wireless services, and common carrier wireless exchange access services are transmitted.” This would include such devices as cell phones and anything used for text messaging or paging, but the suggested wording specifically excludes “two-way radio communications equipment, such as that used in the Amateur Radio Service.”

For states or localities considering banning all but hands-free cell phone use, the ARRL recommended wording that would prohibit the use of a personal wireless communications device “in any manner” while driving, unless the motorist is using hands-free capability. The suggested statutory language would not apply to anyone using the device while the vehicle is parked or “to contact or receive calls from an emergency response vehicle or agency.”

ARRL CEO David Sumner, K1ZZ, addressed the issue in his November 2013 QST “It Seems to Us” editorial, “Distracted Driving Legislation: Proceed with Caution.” In the editorial, Sumner wrote, “For decades, radio amateurs have been operating while driving without being perceived as a threat to highway safety. In the face of legislation to ban unsafe practices such as texting while driving it is natural to want clear exemptions for Amateur Radio — but beware of unintended consequences.”

Sumner described one of those “unintended consequences” relating to Connecticut’s distracted driving statute, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advised was not in compliance with MAP-21, because its Amateur Radio exception was not one of the three permitted under the law. Connecticut revised its law in 2013 to limit the use of a hand-held radio by an Amateur Radio operator to emergencies only — “exactly what we were hoping to avoid,” Sumner wrote.

As further evidence of Amateur Radio’s mobile safety record, the policy points to a 2009 letter to the ARRL from the National Safety Council. In the letter, the Council said it neither had nor was aware of evidence that using Amateur Radio or two-way radio while driving posed significant crash risks. “Until such time as compelling, peer-reviewed scientific research is presented that denotes significant risks associated with the use of amateur radios, two-way radios or other communication devices, the NSC does not support legislative bans or prohibition on their use,” the Council said.

A 1994 joint congressional resolution expressed support for Amateur Radio as national policy and declared that “reasonable accommodation be made” for effective Amateur Radio operation “from residences, private vehicles, and public areas,” and that laws should “facilitate and encourage Amateur Radio operation as a public benefit.”