(This is an editorial by Peter West, VE3HG, the vice-president of public relations for Radio Amateurs of Canada. This editorial does not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Radio Amateurs of Canada and solely represents the opinion of the author.)
There’s an old saying that you don’t throw out the baby when you throw out the bathwater.
So is that what could happen in Ontario if Jim Bradley, the Minister of Transportation, decides that all two-way radios in use in moving vehicles must be equipped with a hands-free device?
I think I say that for the vast majority of Ontario’s 5,000-plus amateur radio operators the answer would be yes.
Hams have been installing two-way radios in vehicles since the time of the invention of the two-way radio and the time of the invention of the automobile. And in the ensuing 100-plus years there’s not been an outbreak of distracted driving caused by people driving and talking on two-way radios.
The use of a two-way radio in a moving vehicle is not an issue for pilots who routine talk on their radios as they land and take off from airports big and small. It’s not an issue for emergency responders who may well be pumped up with adrenaline coursing through their bodies and yet find they can drive at high speeds their emergency vehicles while talking on their radios.
It’s the same for CBers, transport truck drivers, delivery people, taxis and scores of other drivers. In fact, anyone who has ever used a two-way radio with an attached microphone will tell you the same thing.
Oddly, commercial drivers who use two-way radio equipment are not subjected to any testing or need to have any technical knowledge in the operation of their radio equipment. Ham radio operators, on the other hand, do pass federally administered proficiency examinations before being granted the privilege to use their two-way radio equipment in their vehicles.
Heck, even the astronauts on the International Space Station (of whom four right now are licensed amateur radio operators) talk on their radios (including ham radio) without thought that they might be distracted from their work.
So what is the intent of Bill 118?
Why it’s to save lives and every member of the Amateur Radio Service supports this legislation. It’s a good thing and Minister Bradley should be congratulated on its introduction this fall.
However, the minister shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. The use of two-way radios doesn’t contribute to distracted driving. It never did and it never will. A simple demonstration shows this to be true.
If amateur radio was negatively impacted by Bill 118 our communities would end up being the big losers. Hams annually unselfishly contribute thousands of hours of community and emergency service plus the donation of their skills and equipment to their friends and neighbours. And in many cases such as the Barrie Tornado, the Quebec Ice Storm, Hurricane Katrina and right now the California wildfires, amateur radio is at the forefront of serving the needs of their communities
Bill 118 would cause many to forgo the installation of a two-way radio in their private vehicles. This sadly is just human nature. right now we have a vibrant and, surprisingly, growing population of active amateur radio operators and Bill 118 would do nothing to encourage them to spend anywhere from $200 to $2000 in mobile equipment.
Legislators in other states and provinces have seen the wisdom in specifically exempting amateur radio operation from their distracted driving legislation. Minister Jim Bradley should be encouraged to do the same.
Now is the time to contact the Minister directly and share with him your concerns and thoughts.