Massachusetts Distracted Driving Law As Applied to Ham Radio Operation

A new distracted driving law was passed in 2019 and went into effect on February 23, 2020. It states, in pertinent part, that, 

“No person, when operating a motor vehicle, shall permit to be on or in the vehicle or on or about his person anything which may interfere with or impede the proper operation of the vehicle or any equipment by which the vehicle is operator or controlled, except that a person may operate a motor vehicle while using a federally licensed 2–way radio or mobile telephone, except as provided in sections 8M12A and 13B, as long as 1 hand remains on the steering wheel at all times.” [Emphasis added.]

 Sections 8M, 12A, and 13B should not apply to adult ham radio operators. 

  • Section 8M applies an absolute prohibition to use of mobile phones or other electronic device by persons under 18. 
  • Section 12A applies an absolute prohibition to use of mobile phones or other electronic device by persons involved in public transportation (i.e., public buses and ferries). 
  • Section 13B applies an absolute prohibition to composing, sending, or reading electronic messages while operating a motor vehicle for all operators.

The Eastern Massachusetts Section of ARRL recently posted Important Information on New Massachusetts Distracted Driving LawThey recommend that you carry with you or in your car,

  1. A copy of the Massachusetts law (MGL Ch. 90, § 13), and
  2. A copy of your FCC license.

 What you MAY NOT do:

  • Read, write, or send text messages while operating a vehicle.
  • Engaging in internet-related activities while operating a vehicle.
  • Use a cell phone or mobile electronics if you are in a travel lane (e.g., stopped at a traffic light).
  • Drivers under the age of 18 may not use cell phones and mobile electronics while operating a vehicle – even if using a hands-free mode.
  • Public transit drivers may not use cell phones while operating a vehicle.

 What you MAY do:

  • Use a ham radio while operating a vehicle if you are FCC-licensed and keep one hand on the steering wheel.
  • Stop your vehicle and use an electronic device as long as you are not in a driving lane (i.e., while parked).

 Suggestions if you are stopped by police:

  • Always comply with the officer’s instructions and be respectful.
  • Put both hands on the top of the steering wheel and, at night, turn on the dome light.
  • Do not reach for items in the car before the officer approaches you – there’s plenty of time to get documents when the officer can see what you are doing.
  • If the officer does not know the law’s exception for federally licensed 2–way radio operators, tactfully show the officer a copy of the law.
  • Show the officer your driver’s license and FCC license.
  • Do not argue with the officer – traffic court is the proper time and place to argue your case.