Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Cellular Telephone" Bills Pose Potential Problems

Bills aimed at thwarting "driving while cellular" and "driving while distracted" behavior have been introduced in several states, and most are worded broadly enough to proscribe Amateur Radio mobile operation. ARRL Regulatory Information Specialist Dan Henderson, N1ND, so far has catalogued 10 active pieces of legislation. Bills introduced in Montana and New Mexico have been sidelined for now, but related measures -- more than one in some states -- remain alive in Georgia, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. Henderson reports that ARRL Field Organization volunteers and members called the League's attention to the various pieces of pending legislation, none of which specifically exempt Amateur Radio mobile operation. "In most cases we try to work to have language exempting Amateur Radio inserted into the bill, rather than narrowing by definition the behavior or activity the bill seeks to address," Henderson explains. "It is a far easier approach and removes ambiguity down the road."
Henderson says that, if requested, the League will advise radio amateurs preparing to testify about a bill before a state legislative committee. "We offer some suggestions regarding what to cover and how to approach their testimony," he said. "We also will speak with legislators or their aides to try and clarify questions or help them craft language that help accomplish our goal of specifically exempting Amateur Radio operation from these measures." Most of the measures include exceptions for emergency communication.
In Georgia, House Bill 5 (HB 5) would assess those anyone found to be "driving while distracted" while using a wireless communication device one driver's license infraction point. The bill defines "device" to cover not only cellular or mobile telephones -- whether or not they're hands-free, but any "wireless communication device, personal digital assistant, radio or citizens band radio." HB 5 thus appears to include such routine activities as changing the station on your car radio.
In Montana, House Bill 233 (HB 233) would restrict drivers from "the use of electronic communication devices, or any other activity that causes the driver to become inattentive." This bill was tabled in committee on January 30th, following a hearing a few days earlier.
In New Mexico, House Bill 241 (HB 241) would prohibit a driver from using "a mobile communication device while operating a motor vehicle." The measure has been tabled.
Three related bills now are in play in Oregon: House Bill 2482 (HB 2482) and Senate Bill 293 (SB 293) contain essentially the same language, making it an offense to operate a motor vehicle "while using a mobile communication device" without a hands-free accessory. Senate Bill 246 (SB 246) establishes such behavior as an offense, punishable by a fine of up to $180 and providing more serious consequences if property damage, injury or death result -- up to and including license suspension and prison terms.
In Texas, Senate Bill 154 (SB 154) would prohibit motor vehicle operators to use a "wireless communication device" while under way unless it was equipped for hands-free operation.
In Vermont, two measures are in play. House Bill 31 (HB 31) would make it a violation to use a "cellular telephone" while in motion on the highway, except in the event of an emergency. Enforcement would be secondary, however, and police would have to have first stopped the driver for a suspected violation of another traffic offense. A more-restrictive bill, HB 126, addresses "distracted driving," and cites "any activity involving the use of one or both of the driver's hands if the activity is not necessary for the operation of the vehicle or any of its installed accessories." The bill would include activities ranging from smoking, eating or drinking to "performing personal grooming," "interacting with pets or unsecured cargo" and "using personal communications technologies." Hands-free cell phone operation would be permissible, however.
In Washington, House Bill 1214 (HB 1214) would outlaw such activities as "reading, manually writing or sending a message on an electronic wireless communications device." The measure does not include an exception for hands-free devices.
In Wyoming, two nearly identical measures are alive. The more general legislation, House Bill 152 (HB 152) addresses using "a cellular or satellite telephone while operating a motor vehicle" without a hands-free device. House Bill 284 (HB 284) contains essentially identical language but specifies drivers operating under an "intermediate permit." Both incorporate an exemption for Citizens Band, but not for Amateur Radio operation.