ARRL East Bay Section

CA Hands Free Law – We are not out of the woods yet!

Posted by af6aq on April 16th, 2008

I noticed a number of bulletins have passed around this link as proof positive that the hands-free driving law that will go into effect July 1st does not apply to amateur radio.  And in fact, when this page first went up on the DMV site, I recall passing it on to you as an indication that the matter was settled.  Unfortunately, there has been a turn of events that gives me pause.

At the time the page cited above was put up by the DMV, it was linked from this page (the link was named something on the order of “FAQs about the new hands-free laws” and if you searched on the DMV site you would find both pages.  Sometime subsequent to that, the FAQs were placed directly on page and the link to the old page ( was removed.  The text now on the main page says nothing about an exclusion for two-way radio use except for specific exclusion “for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature”.  The page we have seen passed around is ***not*** linked to or from any other page on the DMV site and it does not show up when you search the DMV site (there is a search tool anchored in the upper right corner of every DMV page).  And the text on the published page reads to me like anything with a push-to-talk switch cannot be operated by the driver of a vehicle except for the exclusions for emergency workers, tow truck drivers, commercial truckers, and so forth.

So what happened?
*  Did a web developer at the DMV attempt to merge the two pages and inadvertently put the old text on the main page, and leave the old pdf out there for us to find (assuming we know the exact URL)?
                                                          — OR —
*  Was there an official change of interpretation and the result is this republication of the FAQs on the main page with the example that excluded two-way radios deliberately removed?

We don’t know!  And so far our attempts to find out have not yielded an answer.

The root of the problem is the law uses the term “wireless telephone” without defining it.  This leaves the definition up to the DMV and CHP and eventually to the courts when someone gets cited and starts the process of challenging it.  Changing the law is a 2 to 3 year process, so that’s not an immediate remedy.  Asking legal authorities such as the State Attorney General for a definition of “wireless telephone” is risky because there is no assurance we would get a favorable definition, and thus might get stuck with the unfavorable one.

We’re working the issue with our contacts in Sacramento.  In the meantime, I strongly advise against making any statements that the issue is resolved or pointing people to what amounts to an orphan document on the DMV web site.  It’s too bad, because this was so promising — now we just don’t know.  Bob and I will update you the minute we hear anything official.  And if you happen upon any developments, please share them with all of us.
Andy Oppel, N6AJO
Vice Director, Pacific Division
American Radio Relay League (ARRL)
The National Association for Amateur Radio