California Hands-Free Law to Go into Effect July 1; Ham Radio Not Affected Says Counsel
A new California hands-free cellular telephone law goes into effect July 1, 2008. It, like many others around the country, prohibits using mobile telephones while driving unless a hands-free device is utilized. ARRL has received numerous questions about its application to the use of mobile Amateur Radio stations by licensed amateurs. The law, in relevant part, states as follows:
"23123. (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving."
ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, advises that "The definition of prohibited behavior in California's recent statute does not include a prohibition of operating a mobile, licensed Amateur Radio station while driving, because Amateur Radio transceivers are not telephones. While ARRL cannot guarantee that this statute will not be interpreted by law enforcement officers or the courts of California more broadly than that, it is our view that a fair reading of the statute excludes mobile operation of Amateur Radio equipment by licensed radio amateurs.
That said, it is obvious that drivers should pay full time and attention to driving. To the extent that operating their amateur stations while mobile is a distraction to them, they should consider, if possible, pulling over safely to the side of the road and conducting their amateur communications while stationary."
ARRL Regulatory Information Manager Dan Henderson, N1ND, adds that while the statute on its face does not apply to Amateur Radio mobile operation, problems could still arise: "Law enforcement officers are not telecommunications experts and may not understand or be concerned about the difference between a cellular telephone and a ham radio. If you do get stopped, be polite and state that you were operating a mobile Amateur Radio transmitter as specifically authorized by the FCC and not a wireless telephone. Don't engage in an argument if the officer issues a citation -- that won't help your cause. If cited, you will need to follow the instructions about contesting the citation in traffic court. As ARRL counsel notes, the language of the statute does not appear to include amateur mobile operation. Unfortunately, you could have to go through the inconvenience of appearing in court to contest a citation."
ARRL will continue to monitor the application of this statute relative to radio amateurs.