ARRL Weighs In on New California ‘Driving While Wireless’ Statute
ARRL is recommending that Amateur Radio be specifically excluded from a California statute prohibiting the use of “wireless communication devices” while driving. ARRL Southwestern Division Vice Director Marty Woll, N6VI, is taking point on the effort to revise the statute, known by its legislative bill number AB 1785. It was signed into law last September, and it took effect on January 1, amending §23123.5 of the state’s Vehicle Code.
“ARRL has received a huge volume of inquiries and complaints about this statute in particular, since its enactment,” ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, wrote in a letter to Woll to provide guidance in amending the California statute. “I would urge that you present this letter at any meetings you have with California State legislators on this topic, thus to bring the issues contained herein to their attention.”
Imlay pointed out that that the prior statute excluded Amateur Radio by definition. The new law, which completely replaced the earlier statute, never mentions Amateur Radio, but instead contains an open-ended definition of an “electronic wireless communications device,” the operation of which while driving is prohibited. According to the statute, this “includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, a pager, or a two-way messaging device.”
“Because of the ‘not limited to’ language, such a device is whatever a law enforcement officer thinks might be included, and an Amateur Radio operator is not at all protected,” Imlay wrote. Such a broad definition could stymie “even the most diligent law enforcement officers,” who might interpret the new Vehicle Code language “more broadly than was intended.”
Imlay noted that radio amateurs provide emergency and public service communications on a volunteer basis, and said the FCC encourages Amateur Radio licensees to assist during disasters and emergencies.
“Radio amateurs have regularly used mobile two-way radio systems for the past 70 years,” Imlay said. “The ARRL is aware of no evidence that such operation contributes to driver inattention,” he stressed. “Quite the contrary: Radio amateurs are public service-minded individuals who utilize their radio-equipped motor vehicles to assist others, and they are focused on driving in the execution of that function.”
Imlay also cited a 2009 letter to ARRL from the National Safety Council stating that there was no evidence using Amateur Radio while driving is a significant risk, and that there is “a reasonable basis for excluding Amateur Radio communications from the prohibitions on mobile telephone operation and mobile text messaging while operating a motor vehicle.”
Citing a 1994 Joint Resolution of Congress, Imlay pointed out that the policy of the United States is to encourage mobile Amateur Radio operation as a public benefit.
“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 California legislators to reconsider and amend AB 1785, either to more narrowly define the class of devices included in the prohibition…,” Imlay wrote. “Alternatively, a specific exemption for Amateur Radio operators would suffice…”