Back in November, it was reported on this website and on Eastern MA section’s website that new changes to the Commonwealth’s distrcted driver laws were being considered. These changes would include holding any electronics communications device, even with just one hand, while driving.
These changes will go into effect on February 23, 2020. There will be a grace period until the end of March 2020. So if you’re stopped, only expect a warning. But after that, a first offense will mean a $100 fine; second offense $250; and a third or any subsequent offense will cost you $500. Habitual offenders could also be subjected to auto insurance surcharges or driver training.
Also, as previously posted here and on the EMA website, section management from both sections approached state legislators about this bill with the goal of having an amendment made to the bill to excempt radio operations by licensed amateur radio operators. They were successful. The new law states that it “permits use of a federally licensed 2–way radio” provided that “1 hand remains on the steering wheel at all times.”.
The best ways to avoid being ticketed for your lawful use of amateur radio while mobile is to have the appropriate documentation in the vehicle with you. The idea is that you provide the police officer in question with this information, your chances of the officer giving you a ticket for what is clearly legal exempted radio operations will be substantially reduced.
The first item to print out and have with you in the car is the actual text of the Massachusetts General Law on the subject. That would be MGL Part 1, Title XIV, Chapter 90, Section 13. It is recommended that you also highlight the relavant statement in the law that reads: “a person may operate a motor vehicle while using a federally licensed 2–way radio or mobile telephone, except as provided in sections 8M, 12A and 13B, as long as 1 hand remains on the steering wheel at all times”. In these situations, only the exact text of the actual MGL in question will suffice. Do not use any type of summarization of the law, just print the entire Section 13 per the page at the link above.
The second item is your valid FCC amateur radio license. Although the FCC went to paperless licenses in February 2015, there are instructions available for obtaining an official copy of your license.
As recent related post to the CMARA email list mentions: “Lest you think this isn’t going to be aggressively enforced please note that a CMARA member was pulled over in early December by a policeman that a) thought the distracted driving law was already in effect, b) didn’t know the provisions for mobile radio operators. Even with this information you may still receive a ticket but the law is on our side and you should be OK if it goes to court.”
Please continue to use your best judgement regarding your safety and the safety of others on the road with you and don’t operate your radios unless it is perfectly safe for you to do so. However, be prepared to ensure that all our hard work to get this amateur radio related exemption codified into the law isn’t wasted by making sure you are ready with the correct documents if you are pulled over for this reason.