The Ontario legislation is frustrating to amateurs because they have been trying to draw a distinction between cellphone use and two-way radio use, but I'm not sure that distinction will hold water for very long. For instance, the ARRL has pointed out in a letter to the US National Safety Council that there is a substantial difference between two-way radios and other kinds of distractions. The reply to ARRL from the NSC is more carefully worded than most hams have noted (italics mine):
"We are not aware of evidence that using Amateur Radios while driving has significant crash risks," Froetscher wrote in her August 24 letter. "We also have no evidence that using two-way radios while driving poses significant crash risks. Until such time as compelling, peer-reviewed scientific research is presented that denotes significant risks associated with the use of Amateur Radios, two-way radios or other communication devices, the NSC does not support legislative bans or prohibition on their use."Amateurs seem to assume that no such research will be forthcoming, but there is a big difference between 'not proven' and 'not true'. As far as I know, the lamp of research has not shone brightly on the use of two-way radios while driving because researchers have naturally focused more intently on the far more pervasive habit of speaking on a cell-phone while driving. Of course, until the research is done, neither I nor you know what will result, but my guess is that it will be found that use of a two-way radio is to some degree risky. At that point, I imagine the NSC will happily recommend that mobile two-way radio be conducted hands-free, just like the Ontario legislation.
If that is the case, the amateur radio fraternity needs to decide. Do we want to suggest that we are a breed apart, specially careful with our use of radios so that they don't distract us whereas they do others? The ARRL's letter seems to suggest this when it says,
"The ARRL is aware of no evidence that [mobile] operation contributes to driver inattention," the Policy Statement asserts. "Quite the contrary: Radio amateurs are public service-minded individuals who utilize their radio-equipped motor vehicles to assist others, and they are focused on driving in the execution of that function."Surely it is research that determines if amateurs truly are focused on driving when they use their radios. Many a public-minded person who imagines that he or she drives completely safely with a cellphone in hand has been caught up with distracted driving legislation; they won't accept that amateurs should be exempt if research shows that two-way mobile use poses a risk. If we persist in arguing this, we will undercut the very theme of public safety that provides an very important basis for the amateur radio service.
Instead, let's use the Ontario situation as a testbed for hacks and homebrew solutions that might need to be used across the world if research shows two-way mobile communications present a safety risk on the road. Remember, Ontario does not say you can't talk on the radio; it just says you can't twiddle knobs. Can the common activities of a mobile amateur radio operator be conducted in a wholly hands-free way? Obviously bluetooth audio connections and the like solve the voice link. What about switching between repeaters as one drives in and out of their ranges? In a future post I'll outline a possible solution to that problem.