Will NTSB Recommendation Affect Ham Radio?

National Transportation Safety BoardYesterday, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that “the 50 states and the District of Columbia:”

(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and (3) implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving. (H-11-XX)

As usual, there has been a big hue and cry among radio amateurs who fear that this recommendation is going to somehow find its way into laws that ban use of mobile radio equipment. In my humble opinion, we really don’t have to worry about this.

In nearly all, if not all, states where laws have been enacted restricting the use of personal electronic devices, ham radio has always been exempted. One of the main reasons for this is that the National Safety Council recognizes that there is no evidence that operating an amateur radio set poses a significant crash risk. The ARRL and the ARRL members in states where this legislation has come up have been quick to point this out, and we will be quick to point this out again.

The accidents cited in the recommendation are certainly terrible events, and banning cellphone use while driving may certainly be a legitimate thing to do. Having said that, none of the incidents involved amateur radio or any other two-way radio operation, and we should be quick to point that out.

And one more thing: drive carefully, whether you have a microphone in your hand or not.


  1. This, seat belt, and motorcycle helmet laws are stupid, and reek of a Government out of control. You can’t pass laws to protect people from themselves. People are going to use cell phones in cars, if this law passes, or not.
    I can see the cell phone lobby possibly pointing to Ham and/or CB radio as being “dangerous”, despite the fact that sometimes, all a truck driver has to keep him awake is his CB or Ham Radio.

  2. John K2JLM says:

    Good post. Unfortunately the NTSB is using a broad sword in their language. They say “portable electronics”, that would imply anything not permanently installed in the vehicle. While a mobile transceiver might be exempt a handheld transceiver could fall into that category. Personally I probably would not operate a handheld just to avoid the hassle of getting pulled over and maybe having to go to court to fight it. Just because the NTSB recommends does not mean the states have to make it law. I’m all for the banning of texting while driving. There are too many distracted folks on the road, it’s scary. The problem is how do they enforce it? Some folks have suggested making the penalty as harsh as a DUI or DWI. Maybe the revocation of a drivers license is what’s needed to send the message. Law enforcement agencies could subpoena the phone records for proof of activity. People don’t understand, driving is a privilege not a right.

  3. This is such a simple problem to fix. Most phones now have accelerometers and GPS systems. Simply add some code to the operating system that renders the phone unusable if it’s traveling at more than 10 miles per hour.

  4. Ned Davis, WB4BKO says:

    Personally I won’t use any communications device while in motion. I find ham radio to be very distracting. If I want to play radio, I can park on a street or in an interstate rest area. There is just too much traffic out these days. I turn the car radio way down when I’m in heavy traffic, especially when I’m in a town I’m not familiar with.

    This doesn’t mean I am in favor of any band on amateur radio usage in a moving vehicle, but drivers must determine if their performance suffers while using radio equipment when in motion.

    Try CW while riding a bicycle. Now there’s a challenge!!

    Ned Davis

  5. Fred, what if you’re on a bus or train, or a passenger in a car?

  6. Just yesterday there arrived news of a sixteen year old driver and his sister passenger being killed in a terrible accident involving a stopped school bus. It was reported that the driver never hit his brakes before driving the car under the bus. Of course, the first thought was distracted driving. In the end the parents lost their only two children in a tragic event. Distracted or not, inexperience, being “too young,” or whatever won’t allay this family’s grief. The father is a colleague. I can’t imagine the parents’ thoughts at this time.

    Hang up and drive!

    As a surveyor I’m oftentimes found in the roadway and “dodging” stupid drivers. The idiot drivers always seem to be the ones who don’t read my warning signs or think it cute to speed past me, inches away. Throw in a cell phone and the situation just gets fraught with more potential for a terrible outcome.

    There are few conversations worth the potential for disaster. Cell phone, ham radio QSO, or otherwise.

    My two cents worth.

    Bill, NA8M

  7. LOL, if they Ban anything, let them Ban the Boom Boom Bass and super loud car stereos.
    Here in Tampa, idiots ride down the road with outside horns on their cars, forcing everyone to listen to their crap.

  8. According to the FARS database, cell phone use was implicated in 233 highway fatalities in 2010. I don’t think my use of a cell phone while driving is sufficiently important to warrant those deaths.

    And, yes, I’m aware that if we give an inch on cell phones, the next thing you know, they’ll outlaw dashboard hibachis.

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