Canadian Amateurs Angered by Cell Law

Canada East.com Times & Transcript
by: Alan Cochrane
December 15, 2010

Amateur radio fraternity loses appeal to be exempted from law like truckers and cab drivers

Ham radio operators in New Brunswick are angry that New Brunswick’s new cellphone law will force them to pull over to the side of the road to talk into their microphones.

“I’m a retired pilot. I flew airplanes and helicopters for many years while talking on a microphone and I’m still alive to talk about it,” veteran ham radio operator George Dewar of Riverview told the Times & Transcript this week. “I don’t believe people should be doing something that is distracting while they are driving, but I’ve been driving for 53 nears and I’ve never lost a point. Talking to people who are sitting in the passenger seat is just as distracting as talking on the phone, and it’s more distracting trying to run the heater or turn on the car radio.”

New Brunswick’s Bill 4, which makes it illegal to talk or text on a cellphone or any other handheld device, has already passed third reading in the legislature and is expected to be passed into law soon. Meghan Cumby, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said the government plans to start enforcing the law early in the new year. The phase-in will be accompanied by an education campaign to explain the law to drivers.

Basically, the intent of the law is to stop people from talking or texting on their phones while operating a motor vehicle on public roads. If your want to make a call or text you will have to pull over and stop. Cumby said being stopped at a red light doesn’t count. The government has said the intent of the law is to make highways and streets safer.

The devices covered under the law include cell phones, two-way radios, portable entertainment devices like iPods or MP3 players, phones that can send or receive e-mails or anything else that is “normally held in the user’s hand during use or requires the user to use his or her hand to operate any of its functions.”

According to the law, the word “operate” means to drive or have actual physical control of a motor vehicle that is in motion. If you are holding the device, whether or not it is turned on, you are in trouble. You’re not even allowed to look at the device’s display.

But there are some exemptions to the new law.

If you are using your phone to make an emergency call to the police, fire department or ambulance service, it’s okay to keep driving. Likewise if you are driving an emergency vehicle in the course of your job.

And if you have your phone equipped with a hands-free system, you are okay. Taxi drivers, truckers and drivers of commercial vehicles who use two-way radios will be within the law, as will people using radios during search and rescue operations. The law says it is okay to look at your GPS unit as long as it is for “navigational purposes,” but no other display screens (TV sets, DVD players) can be visible to the driver. Drivers who get caught will face fines and demerit points on their licence.

Ham radio operators like Dewar say they should be granted an exemption to the law because they often perform community service and help to the RCMP and other agencies during emergencies and searches. He’s quick to point out that members of the amateur radio fraternity have to study, write an exam and be granted a licence by Industry Canada to use their radios.

Dewar has his radio wired into his car and mounted on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, along with a GPS device fitted with a four-by-six centimetre screen, about the same as you’d find on a cellphone or iPod.

The GPS connects his radio to the Internet so he and other members of the fraternity can track each other through online maps. When he talks to other members of the fraternity, he uses a hand-held microphone. He says he wouldn’t mind going to hands-free technology, but so far there are no suitable models for his brand of radio.

Dewar and other ham radio operators have tried to fight the cellphone law but the Public Safety Minister Robert Trevors has said they will have to abide by the law just like everybody else.

“Since Bill 4 was introduced, we heard from many ham radio operators,” Trevors said in a recent speech to the Legislature. “They told us that they want the law to allow them to use their radios without restriction. We listened, and we understand their request.

“However, we have chosen to remain on the side of safety. Amateur radio operators can use their two-way radios in emergency operations, and search and rescue operations only. In all other situations, they’ll have to pull off the highway to use them, or upgrade to hands-free technology.”

Dewar doesn’t buy it and says the law is flawed.

“I consider Bill 4 to be flawed,” Dewar said in a letter to the minister. “Its intention is to eliminate irresponsible behaviour in the use of cellphones and street navigation GPS devices. Instead it also targets users of mobile radios who are not and never have been considered as safety threats.

“I feel your statement shows contempt for the amateur radio group when you basically state we’re irresponsible except when the civilian authority requires our assistance.

“I feel I’m being patronized when the civilian authority believes I’ll gladly render assistance even though I’m considered irresponsible.

“My licence plates identify me as an amateur radio operator. I now fear being targeted by law enforcement agencies.”

via timestranscript.com – Radio amateurs angered by cellphone law | by alan cochrane – Breaking News, New Brunswick, Canada.