Ham Radio and the Law

Chris - N0YH

Many studies have shown that a driver using a cell phone can be as impairing and dangerous as driving drunk. At 65 mph, a two-second glance at your cell phone in the seat next to you means you have traveled over 190 feet on the road without looking. That is about the legal limit for a radio tower without FAA permission and required lighting.  A lot can happen in 190 feet. This has led state legislatures to pass laws that restrict the use of cell phones while driving.

Every state has “distracted driving” laws enacted and Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma are no exception.  But just how does that play out when using a mobile Ham radio for communication instead of your cell phone?  To answer that we first must examine the laws currently on the books.

Missouri Cell Phone and Texting Laws

Revisor of Statutes in the State of Missouri, Section 304.820, bans text messaging and all other use of hand-held mobile devices while operating a motor vehicle for drivers 21 or younger, with a few exceptions. This law went into effect August 28, 2013. The law does not apply to drivers over the age of 21. “Text messaging” includes sending, reading, or writing electronic texts or emails. Drivers operating commercial motor vehicles must also abide by this law, regardless of age. As of January 2012, bus drivers may not use hand-held devices while driving. The only exceptions are as follows: 

The person is operating an authorized emergency vehicle.
The person used a hand-held device to report illegal activity, summon emergency assistance, or prevent injury to person or property.
The person used the device to relay information between a for-hire operator and a dispatcher (only if the device is permanently affixed to the vehicle).
The person used a hand-held device to report illegal activity, summon emergency assistance, or prevent injury to person or property.

The state has few laws on the books that dictate cell phone use while driving. Missouri does not have a hand-held ban in place, and the current laws allow young drivers to talk on a cell phone while driving as soon as they get their licenses.

But what if you are under 21 and have a Ham license, what then? What if you get pulled over by the police who think your microphone is a cell phone?  Not to worry as the RSMo has addressed this issue.

304.828. 1. As used in this section, the following terms mean: (1) “Electronic message”, a digital communication that is designed or intended to be transmitted between physical devices and includes, but is not limited to, electronic mail, text message, instant message, messaging within a software application, social media posts or reactions, video call or message, or a command or request to access an internet site; (2) “Electronic wireless communications device”, a cellular telephone; portable telephone; text-messaging device; personal digital assistant; stand-alone computer including, but not limited to, a tablet, laptop or notebook computer; global positioning system receiver; device capable of displaying a video, movie, broadcast television image, or visual image; or any substantially similar portable wireless device that is used to initiate or receive communication, information, images, or data. Such term does not include a radio; citizens band radio; citizens band radio hybrid; commercial two-way radio communication device or its functional equivalent; subscription-based emergency communication device; prescribed medical device; amateur or ham radio device; or in vehicle security, navigation, communications, or remote diagnostics system. In other words, mobile Ham radio in Missouri is perfectly legal.

Where does Oklahoma stand on the issue?  State law which relates to full time attention while driving, prohibits use of certain devices by operators of motor vehicles and provides exceptions for a person who is operating an amateur radio and who holds a current, valid Amateur Radio station license issued by the Federal Communication Commission.

Let’s not forget our Kansas neighbors. Where does the law lie regarding them?  Except for young drivers, Kansas laws only prohibit texting on a wireless device. Other uses are not illegal, so you can still use a device for other purposes. However, other uses also constitute distracted driving and can cause accidents, so using caution is essential.  But for our purposes it says the law would exempt commercial two-way radio devices or equivalents, subscription-based emergency communication devices, prescribed medical devices, amateur or ham radio devices, and remote diagnostic systems from the definition of mobile telephone.

In 2009 the ARRL took a position on distracted driving issuing this statement…

Nevertheless, ARRL encourages licensees to conduct Amateur communications from motor vehicles in a manner that does not detract from the safe and attentive operation of a motor vehicle at all times. 

The League understands that driver inattention is a leading cause of automobile accidents. “it is not unreasonable to be concerned about substantial distractions to drivers of motor vehicles. Given the necessity of unrestricted mobile Amateur Radio communications in order for the benefits of Amateur Radio to the public to continue to be realized,” the policy statement reads, “the ARRL urges state and municipal legislators considering restrictions on mobile cellular telephone operation to (I) narrowly define the class of devices included in the regulation so that the class includes only full duplex wireless telephones and related hand-held or portable equipment; or alternatively (II) specifically identify licensed Amateur Radio operation as an excluded service.”

For more information on RSMo 304.820 or to read it in its entirety, go to