We pioneered radio technology. Now we're pioneers in safety.

I stole this headline from Bruce, VE3QRP (aka: VE9QR) who wrote in a comment published recently on this blog the following:

“… what I want to see are news reports that highlight how hams are inventing new approaches to ensure that two-way mobile  communication is safe. The story we want to tell is, “we pioneered the technology that makes cellphones work, now we’re pioneering technology to make mobile communications safe.”

This is brilliant.

And it doesn’t preclude our continuing effort to educate governments (i.e. Ontario) that don’t exclude the use of two-way radios in moving vehicles in the error of their logic but it does allow us to take the higher ground.

If amateurs in the affected jurisdictions lobby their legislators for relief and gain the active support of national and provincial benefactors of amateur radio there may well come a time when we should go public with our story of community service which is long and admirable. And, in the meantime, we can show how we are contributing to roadway safety through our own technological expertise.

Look: I suspect some of the anger over legislation like Bill 118 comes as it is a slap in the face of those amateurs who have devoted countless hours (and cash to buy equipment) to serve their communities in times of need. And now we have the ban on hand-held devices as our thanks. It suggests to me a government that acted without clearly considering or even understanding either the history of our contribution or the future potential of our support. From a technical point of view, there is no clear evidence (this from the U.S. National Safety Council) that the use of amateur radio in anyway contributes to distracted driving.

For those hams who say well that’s it I’m taking my radio out of my car and I’m never helping anybody again. That’s really sad and we’ll miss you on the air and at our community events. It’s a bit like saying I’m taking my marbles and going home isn’t it? Why not join us in the work that lies ahead?

Consider this:

  • Amateur radio has been around a lot longer than the governments that exist today :)
  • We have faced similar legislation before (we were off the air during WWII) and recovered
  • We have the ability to operate mobile safely with or without a microphone
  • No one is saying we can’t talk and drive a moving vehicle
  • And finally, and this is our ace in the hole, when all else fails, there’s amateur radio*


* Hundreds of thousands of dollars of grants have been awarded to amateur radio organizations to create radio networks capable of supporting government effort following state- or province-wide disasters where amateur radio was at the forefront of the life-saving efforts. It’s easy to forget the central role amateur radio plays in disasters around the world. And while we would never wish an ice storm or wide-spread tornadoes (which almost happened this summer in southern Ontario) on the people of Ontario or any other disaster when it comes down to it often it’s amateur radio that comes to the rescue.  Unfortunately politicians can have short memories and we’ve got our work cutout to remind them that amateur radio is a viable and vital community resource.


9 Responses to “We pioneered radio technology. Now we're pioneers in safety.”

  • Whatever people decide to do, I think we need to back up our statements with facts and understand that the people listening to us may also have facts, some of which may cause us to swallow hard to acknowledge.

    If we say we pioneered radio technology, we need to understand that the cell phone providers and manufacturers, as well as many of the public, believe that the billions of dollars and thousands of people working in R&D are moving wireless technology forward. Amateur radio has no equivalent to the cell phone or trunked radio to point to as proof that we pioneered this technology.

    Owning a radio and saying you are a volunteer or a solution for emergency communications is not enough. I cannot claim to be a volunteer firefighter unless I join the fire dept. Likewise, if Amateurs are not part of their locally recognized Amateur Radio Volunteer emergency communications group, they are invisible in the eyes of the public and public officials.

    When someone writes about Amateur radio and emergency communications, they should have to identify the group that they currently belong to (EMRG – Ottawa ARES http://www.emrg.ca) to show they are actually involved. Ottawa is a typical place and we have 50 of the 1200 amateurs on record as volunteers. The City has a copy of the list, so when Amateurs in Ottawa talk about emergency communications, the City officials know of only 50 people. Stories about how people will volunteer when needed is not good enough. We expect our local Gov to have emergency plans based on real deliverables, not warm fuzzy feelings.

    Amateur radio is a tiny fraction of the mobile radios on Ontario highways. We were not persecuted or forgotten by the Government. They chose to exclued all mobile radios and the impact on commercial drivers is far more significant than the impact on Amateurs.

    When Amateurs write the “everything failed” they need to put boundarys on the area affected. In Katrina for example there were areas with no communications, areas with spotty communications and some where things got restored rather quickly. There is a big difference between not having communications at a home, or certain areas, including shelters, Vs having no communications. The Emergency Officials may have communications with the outside world, while there is a loss of communications within their jurisdiction. There are also lots of documented stories about things that did survive hurricanes and other disasters, so we need to provide facts on the exact area impacted and exactly how Amateur radio helped. Vague stories that it all failed and only Amateur radio worked, when some people in those areas never saw an Amateur, makes it hard to get the public support.

    Lets see some documented facts.

    Some food for thought.

    Peter – VE3BQP

  • Well, here’s a starting-point for development:


    Of course most VHF/UHF FM mobile rigs don’t have VOX but it should be relatively easy to wire a switch up to the PTT line on the mic input connector.

    With regard to the general comments on holding a mic – I am firmly of the belief that having two hands on the wheel is safer than having one hand on the wheel! Consequently I rarely transmit while actually moving. I have for years used hands-free on my cell-phone and will gladly adopt any technology that would enable me to be a safer driver yet still enjoy amateur radio in my car.

    Having said that, though, I have to question where the “Distraction” comes into play in terms of holding a microphone. Surely it is the conversation that distracts, not the microphone? However, maybe that’s being a bit

  • While the Bluetooth route is very attractive for hands free operation, it limits your ability to generate DTMF tones, since this function is currently only built into microphones. The route I chose was to purchase an MFJ microphone switch box that allow the use of two microphones with any two radios simply by pushing a button. It does require playing around with some internal jumpers, and I got a lot of help on this from the friendly folks at Durham Radio.

    In my current setup I can switch my Heil single-sided headset with a boom microphone to either my IC 706 or my DR-235 220 MHz rig simply by pushing one button, and I can monitor the audio on both rigs at the same time either via their speakers or in my headset. At the push of a button, I can use my DTMF microphone with either radio for linking, autopatch, etc.

    The IC 706 has VOX, which I can use not only for HF but also for 2m and 70cm repeaters if I so choose – making it completely hands free! Unfortunately the Alinco DR 235 does not have VOX, so I need to use the PTT button on the headset for that – but eventually there may be an “outboard VOX box” I could add to the Alinco (or a foot switch).

    It’s not a perfect system but it works for me. As I like to joke, with my headset on I may look like a pilot without an aircraft, but it makes driving my 5-speed standard shift truck so much easier.

    So don’t fret, folks – there are lots of options out there and I am positive the manufacturers will be offering much more in the near future.

    Joe VE3LNU

  • Hi, everyone.

    I think there are two issues that need to be dealt with.

    1. An alternative PTT scheme. VOX just isn’t always the way to go. Could a flex sensor be used to pick up a unique body gesture that is not considered unsafe? Such as a shrug or a flexed finger?
    2. Automatic repeater handoff on long trips. As I understand the regulations, it would not be permitted to change frequencies, so unless one is willing to pull over each time he or she switches repeaters, a trip from, say Toronto to Kingston could lose contact pretty quickly as the Toronto repeater is lost. A combination of a micro-controller, GPS, CAT radio control and a small database of repeaters could make this process pretty seamless.

    (I expand on the last point, and post a schematic, on my blog http://ve9qrp.blogspot.com/2009/10/two-bill-118-technical-responses.html and http://ve9qrp.blogspot.com/2009/10/satpack-schematic-progress.html)

  • Wayne Davies va3grp

    Hey, I’m all for fun and games of using a Bluetooth mike,BUT!!!!! What are you going to do when an disatser crops up, and the batteries in the Bluetooth fail to allow you to transmit for help, and you don’t have any spares. Just how many batteries are we supposed to carry with us at all times to insure we have charged up batteries for an emergency of any kind. A life maybe be riding on the ability of our radio equipment working at full capacity. This is the reason why the Government of Ontario have fully exempted themselves in Bill 118. If we as amateurs are to be classed as a volunteer emergency group, to be ready at a moments notice, to aid in both communications for private citizens needing our help, and as well as to local police, fire, and ambulance crews, when their comunications break down, and we are the only one keeping the communications running, or they require our mobile help, we haven’t the time to run down to a local store to buy fully charged up batteries, to replace those that had dead on us, nor do we have the time to use our rechargers to charge these Bluetooth devices up during an emergency, and we’re the only ones there, or needed to get help to those needing it. Batteries don’t last guys. In fact, they run down rather quickly. How many of us have spare moiney to keep running out and buying batteries? They’re expensive, specially when you need a supply of them in case of an emergency popping up, and that can be at any second of the day or night. Relying on batteries is a stupid move, specially when any life is at stake. It possibly could be one of your family members that needs this help, and their lives maybe hanging on a thin thread, and needing that help. The amateur with dead batteries will never live it down for the rest of their lives if a life is lost, just because they forgot to charge up their batteries, or had spares on hand. If a person is bleeding at the neck, and a compress is required, leaving only one hand available to operate their transmitter, while they change batteries on their Bluetooth device. If the “Hands Free” Bluetooths were so good, then why doesn’t the Ontario Government start using them. Heaven knows, most single officers in a squad car, have computers, both mobile and hand-held transmitters, an on-board repeater system that can be turned on and off, plus lights and sirens to operate, even a writing pad to write down what the officer needs to write down, all while driving on our Nations roadways. This alone is super dangerous on our roadways, and alot of distraction to the driver. It greatly multiplies in danger when in a high-speed chase. This, the Government of Ontario feels fit to exclude, in not using “Hands Free” devices, while our mobile have far less, if any distractions using our transmitters while driving. Cell phones, text machines and computers are great using, the Bluetooth devices and have many IP address’ and firewalls to prevent anyone from hacking into their devices, unwantedly. The Jabra A-210, is a good interface, and can be used on a transmitter, but unlike a cellphone, or texting machine hookups, the transmitter itself has no extra IP address’ that the Bluetooth can use to prevent other Bluetooth users from hacking into a mobile “Hands Free” setup. The Jabra A-210, will only have a single address, set by the company that makes them, which the Bluetooth device finds and links up with. That’s not much protection from unwanted hackers getting into our mobile Bluetooth setups. Hackers are smart, and getting smarter each day. Many could design away of extending the range of their bluetooth devices beyound the limits now set, where an operator may find their transmitter, transmiiting without him doing so. Servers aid in protecting unwanted Cell phone use, as well as with computers and texting machines. This, along with the internal programming of those devices, block unwanted users. Our transmitters using an small interface unit, with it’s small built-in saftey features, only has the interface programming to block unlicenced users from using their Bluetooths to gain access usage to our mobile transmitters. Our transmitters, don’t have the extra programming in them, required to add extra safety of unwanted useage. With an Interface, such as the Jabra A-210, one would only have to be close enough for their Bluetooth device to connect to that interface. A Bluetooth device will automaticly search and find that signal and connect, if the signal it picks up is strong enough to be picked up. There’s just too many problems regarding the use of a Bluetooth device with a mobile or even abase unit.
    Another point. Does the use of a Bluetooth device on a transmitter break any Federal regulations of Amateur radio? Certainly those who operate HF in their mobiles, will loose the ability of a pre-amp mike, unless they come up with a completely new way to make a Bluetooth, become a per-amp mike. If using a Bluetooth device is so good for Amateur radio, and all other 2-way transmitters across Ontario, then why isn’t the Ontario Government complying with their own made law, and leadin the way in this new adventure of going “Hands Free” These Bluetooth devices would work good in snow removal trucks on our city streets and Highways, seeing the driver has enough to do just driving and controling the snow blade, and sander.
    I say, we got slapped royally in the face, plain and simple, and made to be seen by the common public, to be as big a threat while driving with a hand -held mike as those using cell phones, and texting machines. Our past clean record of not causing any accidents for so many past years, speaks for itself, and we should have the same “equal rights” to operate our mobile transmitters, just like those in Government vehicles. We need to be exempted in Bill 118
    73 Wayne va3grp

  • Wayne Davies va3grp

    One more thing I forgot to mention, How many of you, talk for more than 3 to 4 hours in a day on your mobile transmitters? Those of you that do, better have plenty of spare Batteries in your vehicle, because, that’s the talk life of Bluetooth batteries, so those who make these Bluetooth devices say they have. These are not 9v batteries, and are far more expensive, as well as not sold in every corner store. That by no means places us (as amateurs), fully ready of having to make many long hourly emergency qsos if an emergency, or disaster arises. If we are to be fully ready at a moments notice, then we need full use of those mikes supplied with our mobile transmitters, that don’t use batteries. We shouldn’t be calling ourselves an “Emergency Ready Team of Volunteers”, if we can’t depend on the full operation of out transmiiters when needed, at a moments notice (mobiles included). It would be different, if an accident, or disaster made an appointment with us, so we could be all ready and stocked up with plenty of batteries for the long haul of transmitting for hours on end when we’re needed, but such is not the case. It’s either fight this bill 118 by tooth and nail, by those all across Canada, or let amateur radio remain just a hobby, and remove the emergency ready setups, we’ve worked so hard to put in place. If Ontario’s bill 118 deadline passes, without getting exempted, you can be very sure, the same laws on 2-way radio usage, will swiftly travel to other provinces, that are now classed as exempted. This will spread straight across Canada, from shore to shore, and with Ontario making us go “Hands Free”, and making it stick, all other provinces will be putting the same laws in place, just like Ontario has done. No-one will be exempted anywhere in Canada then. This is why all hams should be standing together, as one solid unit, and fight for exemption in Bill 118. It’s either that, or loose completly. The way I have been seeing Bill 118 lately, is an “equal rights” issue. If the Government of Ontario is totally exempt with all their mobile units across the province, then so should we also be exempt. What’s good for the Big Goose, is just as equally good for the smaller ganders, specially when the Ontario Government can’t abide by their very own law, they expect us to abide by, and comply to. What makes them so different? We use the same type of transmitters as they do. Going “Hands Free”, forces us to change functions settings of our transmitters from the front face, thus taking our eyes away from the roadways, with less attention to our driving. That’s even worse than the way they are saying we’re driving now.
    Lets stand up, fight and get exempted completely, or force them (with the public’s help), to comply to the very same laws they exspect us all to follow. 73

  • Wayne makes some good points re Bluetooth. However, there is nothing to say that we HAVE to use Bluetooth. A simpler – and probably cheaper – way to go would be a simple headset/boom mic hard-wired to the mic socket on the radio, per Joe LNU’s scheme. The PTT switch could be a separate cable to the same plug on the mic cable with the switch itself conveniently located and maybe “click-on, click-off” for minimal hands-off-the-wheel time. By my interpretation of Bill 108, this scheme would be compliant.

    It should be acknowledged, however, that this does not address the issue of function buttons on the microphone – now a feature of so many mobile rigs. I had a Yaesu FT-1802 in my car which I could program with repeaters in memory “banks” to cover my local area, the GTA, Hwy 401, Ottawa, and Montreal. I could scan the separate banks or change from one bank to another with one push of a button on the mic; unfortunately doing this from the buttons on the front of the radio itself was not as easy. Of course one could use the mic switch-box as described by Joe LNU as above and subterritiously switch to the conventional mic to access the buttons, but I would NEVER suggest that….!!!

  • Check out another blog I have wrote about the use of headsets, and Bluetooth devices, and the hidden dangers of using them. An interfaced setup linked to a mobile transceiver, can very much be dangerous to both driving, and your state of hearing. I find I’ve found that by having an earpiece of anykind, linked to a mobile transceiver’s audio o/p, can cause a great deal of permanent hearing losses, and well as make the driver unaware of sounds that should be flowing through the covered up ear, that now has the earpiece stuck in , or over the ear its. It only gives you half the abaility to really hear all traffic sounds. Read my other blog, and think about what I have wrote.

  • I agree with Wayne’s comments re an earpiece blocking out sounds, but again there is no reason to have an earpiece! You can use a boom mic or a headset with ONLY a microphone – no earpiece – and let the normal radio speaker provide the receive audio. That is indeed my plan.

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