By Macy Jenkins

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Back in January, it became illegal to hold your cell phone while driving. But now some drivers say the law unfairly targets radio users as well and they want that to change.

“I’m driving down the road and talking on this radio,” said Norm Lucas, holding his high frequency radio microphone. “Doing that simple act while driving is a $20 ticket.”

For Lucas, ham radio is more than a hobby. It’s been his lifestyle since he was 12.

“It’s enjoyable,” Lucas said. “Somebody could come back to you from 40 miles away or 4,000 miles away.”

But Lucas says his favorite pastime is now in danger. He’s referring to a law written by Assemblyman Bill Quirk in an effort to cut down on distracted driving. It’s the same law that makes it illegal to use your cellphone behind the wheel.

AB 1785 defines an “electronic wireless communications device” as “…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.”

Lucas told CBS13 several police agencies as well as CHP have told him that the law includes the two-way radios he uses every day. So he and a friend created a petition on calling the definition of a wireless device “ambiguous” and urging Quirk to clarify the law’s intent.

“Two-way radio operations would be exempt,” he said, regarding suggested new language to the law.

CBS13 reached out to Quirk to find out whether or not the law intended to ban radios while driving. Quirk’s Chief of Staff Tomasa Duenas said, “CHP does not believe that the language in the vehicle code applies to the use of handheld-amateur radio devices. CHP plans to issue a statewide directive that details their official interpretation of the law.”

Lucas believes that’s a step in the right direction, but said CHP’s interpretation of the law is no substitute for a clarification directly from the legislature.

“It shows a lot of promise right now,” he said. “Things are fluid and we’re just going to have to wait and see.”

Quirk has introduced AB 1222 to clarify the law’s language and he plans to submit a letter to the Assembly Journal further explaining the bill’s intent.

Comments (4)
  1. David Wright says:

    I am in total agreement w/this story. Please let the CHP/CA Congress/Senate members know of support to this view shared by thousands. Professional CA drivers, & other mobile radio licenced users should not be punished by a too far reaching bill w/unintended consequences to law abiding citizens. Thank you.

    D. Wright
    San Lorenzo, CA

  2. if the law is meant to include two way radios, the state would put the entire fire, EMS, and law enforcement agencies in complete and total chaos and violation of the law.

  3. I’m just curious, does this mean I have to cancel my internet connection to my car? I liked having the traffic updates that are sent to it. I can see onstar now…You were just in an accident…unfortunately, it’s illegal in California to call emergency services while operating a vehicle so you will have to get out of car first.

    I’m also curious…if I were 4 wheeling with friend and we get separated, would it be illegal to call him by ham radio or cb? I understand the dangers of being distracted by a phone, but I think this updated law is too broad. It should by pay attention, end of story.

  4. I am a ham radio operator and there is a large difference between using a two way radio and a cell phone. On a cell phone you can talk and listen at the same time, just like you do at home. Two way radio allows you to speak or listen, but not at the same time. The level of distraction is completely different as a result. When cell phones first came out I tried one in the car and soon stopped doing so as the level of distraction was far greater with the cell phone. I had been using two way mobile radios for about 35 years and never experienced such distraction. I stopped using the cell phone in the car long before it was against the law. I don’t like using a Bluetooth device in my ear either, it is legal, but the level of distraction is still too high.

    This is an issue that not only affects ham radio operators, but also a lot of commercial businesses that use two way radio to coordinate their activities as well. Truck drivers use CB to keep track of conditions on the road. Water, natural gas and electric utilities depend on two way radio to deliver their products to customers. Farmers use two way radio on the farm, but also on public roads. A lot of other goods and services every person receives are dependent on the use of two way radio.

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