28.03.2014 11:43

Here is a summary of distracted driving laws and pending legislation in New England as of March 20th, 2014.

Currently the only New England state where mobile amateur radio operation is against the law is Connecticut as a result of tough changes quietly enacted in July 2013 that went into effect on October 1st.   Fines were increased to $150.00 for the first offence and, even worse, now that this is considered a moving violation, insurance surcharges will most likely also apply for three years.  You can't even use your radio when stopped in traffic or at a red light.  More about CT later.

Pending legislation in NH and VT:

Right here in the State of New Hampshire, home of our beloved NEAR-Fest, there is legislation currently before the NH State Legislature, Bill HB-1360, that deals with distracted driving.  This will affect every amateur driving to the hamfest!  The Bill's original wording was very ambiguous and, thanks to Peter Stohrer, K1PJS, the NH Section Manager, the matter was addressed quickly. Several amateurs testified before the committee and, as a result, Bill HR-1360 was amended.  If it passes as worded, as expected, radio amateurs will be exempt from the legislation. 

A similar bill, H.62 is pending in Vermont.  Mitch, W1SJ, informed me that he testified in front of the Senate committee and that an exemption for amateur radio was written into the Bill.  The original draft legislation would have made amateur radio mobile operation illegal.   Had they not acted quickly and decisively the outcome may have been a lot different.

Fortunately, in these two states,  ARRL and other advocates were able to become involved early in the legislative process and provide critical input with positive results.  We all thank them for their efforts.  Consequently, as written, neither of these bills will affect amateur radio mobile operation in NH and VT.

More on Connecticut: It is most unfortunate that neither the League nor any other advocates for amateur radio were able to accomplish the same thing for radio amateurs in CT, ARRL's home state; where, as stated above, it is now illegal to use amateur radio in a vehicle even when stopped for a red light or in heavy traffic except in case of emergency to contact law enforcement/public safety agencies.  What happened; were they caught sleeping or what?  Now it's too late; it's a done deal.  In the November 2013 issue of QST in the IT SEEMS TO US editorial,CEO Dave Sumner makes a feeble attempt to explain the situation and blame it on the federal "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21 (Public Law 112-141) that provides funding for a new Distracted Driving Grant Program to encourage states to enact and enforce distracted driving laws. However, in order to get the federal money states are required to be "in compliance".  Sumner doesn't make any comment on how other states were able to pass legislation that presumably is compliant with the federal law and exempts amateur radio operators at the same time.  If I lived in CT I'd be hyellified!!!.

MA, RI and ME also have distracted legislation in place but are primarily targeted at texting and cellular mobile telephone use.  None of these affect amateur radio operation in a vehicle.

A Google search on "distracted driving" produces several sites with digests of state and provincial laws in effect but these are generally woefully out of date and consequently of little value.  It is recommended that travelers check with each state's DMV web site prior to leaving home for up-to-date information as it is changing constantly.