Friday, July 22, 2016

Does using your amateur radio in the car qualify as "distracted driving"?

An interesting topic came up on the commute this morning. One of our groups daily Ham radio commuters finishes his QSO with "well I will be taking a standby guys, as I am being pulled over by a NYS Trooper". Then there was silence from our friend for about 10 minutes until he came back with the story. Well, you can almost imagine the story, but he did get a ticket and it brings up a lot of questions. (With that persons permission, we will try to update this article after he goes to court).

After this incident, another local Ham suggested that we might share some of the legal opinions and references on using our amateur radios in vehicles here in New York State.

So here goes....................

NYS DMV DRIVING OPINION from the Hudson Division ARRL, August 2013:

"Given the concern that many hams have regarding the new “Distracted Driving Law” that went into effect in New York this past July, particularly since the law increased the penalty to 5 points on a license, I recently asked the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Counsel’s office for an explanation of both the cell phone and distracted driving laws and how they apply to hams.

The opinion, is attached.  I suggest that you read it thoroughly.  It’s very detailed but simply put, it says the following:

The use of two-way radios that are not connected to a public switched telephone service does not violate the “Cell Phone Law.”  Therefore, operating a ham radio does not violate the law (Section 1225-c).
If the equipment in the car is not capable of violating the distracted driving law (including sending text messages, pictures, e-mail, other electronic data, etc.), then the operator is not in violation of the “Distracted Driving Law” (Section 1225-d).
Even if the equipment is capable of violating the law (including sending text messages, pictures, e-mail, other electronic data, etc.), as long as it’s not used in such a manner the operator of the equipment is not violating the “Distracted Driving Law” (Section 1225-d).
In other words, if you are just talking on your radio, you are not in violation of the law.

Please understand that the opinion carries the disclaimer that it is not binding upon prosecutors, law enforcement, or the judiciary.  You may still be stopped, issued a summons, and have to appear in court to plead your case.  However, the DMV opinion carries a lot of weight and should be used in preparing a defense should you receive a summons

Feel free to print out this opinion, but understand that it is not a license to be stupid!  Let’s hope that you never need to use it." (from the Hudson Division ARRL)

Link to original NYS DMV DRIVING OPINION from the Hudson Division ARRL:

Link to V&T law excerpt for Sections 1225 c & d:


Additional information on NYS laws concerning radios in motor vehicles:

Section 397 of the New York State
Vehicle and Traffic Law


A person, not a police officer or peace officer, acting pursuant to his special duties, who equips a motor vehicle with a radio receiving set capable of receiving signals on the frequencies allocated for police use or knowingly uses a motor vehicle so equipped or who in any way knowingly interferes with the transmission of radio messages by the police without having first secured a permit to do so from the person authorized to issue such a permit by the local governing body or board of the city, town or village in which such person resides, or where such person resides outside of a city, or village in a county having a county police department by the board of supervisors of such county, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. Nothing in this section contained shall be construed to apply to any person who holds a valid amateur radio operator's license issued by the federal communications commission and who operates a duly licensed portable mobile transmitter and in connection therewith a receiver or receiving set on frequencies exclusively allocated by the federal communications commission to duly licensed radio amateurs.

(emphasis added.)

Link to the entire Section 397 law:

Link to a very interesting NYS Section 397 case law article from Monitoring Times:

In conclusion; it really makes a lot of sense to be informed on these topics in case you are in the position of being stopped while using your amateur radio.

(BTW - I carry copies of my Amateur Radio License, the NYS opinion, and the section 397 V&T law in my glove compartment.)


  1. Additionally, the smaller wristwatch walkie talkie allows moms and dads to give a very portable unit to their child and attach it to their wrists. walky talky

  2. I would disagree. The letter makes no opinion on the matter i.e. "if the radio..." . However, the radio meets the definition of a "two way messaging device". Messaging may be voice or text. If there is recent case law on it that cites the newer statutes (1225-d), then I would defer to that. The only one I found is dated in 2010 and cites 1225-c. 1225-d was passed in 2012 for just that, closing the loop holes. In 2014 legislation was introduced to exclude HAMs for government emergencies only. It failed.