Legislation to Limit Use of Cell Phones in Cars
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Comments by Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC)
Ontario 37th Legislature, 2nd Session Bill 49
"An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act to prohibit the use of phones and other equipment while driving on a highway" Short Title: Highway Traffic Act Amendment (Cellular Phones) 2001
As the national membership association for Canada's 50,000 licensed Radio Amateurs, we are concerned that the regulations based on Bill 49, if enacted, may have a chilling effect on the large number of Amateur Radio emergency communication volunteers serving the Province of Ontario and its many counties and municipalities.
There is a distinguished history of support for emergency and disaster communications in Ontario by Radio Amateurs. That aspect of the Amateur Radio Service is enshrined in the regulations of the International Telcommunications Union - the international body that coordinates and regulates telecommunications worldwide. In Ontario, our contributions go back more than 80 years, and include emergency communications during Hurricane Hazel almost 50 years ago, the Mississauga train wreck, the Grand Valley ( Barrie) and other tornados, and the Great Ice Storm of 1998. A number of Radio Amateurs have letters signed by Premier Harris thanking them for their selfless dedication to helping with emergency communications during the Great Ice Storm. In times of emergency, professional communications networks, including cellular sites, have been known to fail due to power outage or overload by the press and anxious relatives. Emergency and relief agencies such as the Canadian Red Cross and Emergency Measures Ontario maintain a formally constituted standby program in association with the RAC Amateur Radio Emergency Service. When called upon, Radio Amateurs provide a pool of trained volunteers equipped with their handheld and mobile telecommunications equipment (voice, data, and even video) to provide a backbone of reliable, efficient and flexible communications services to these and other agencies. Indeed many of those agencies have no means to speak to each other when telephones and cellular service are down and they must rely on supplementary communication by radio amateurs. The use of mobile and handheld radio by Radio Amateurs is also fundamental to support of Environment Canada's growing Canwarn severe weather warning network which tracks and warns of severe weather across Ontario.
Since the inception of Canadian licensing for Radio Amateurs in the early part of the 20th century, we have been granted the right to operate mobile radios under the federal Radiocommunications Act and associated regulations. Ontario also recognizes the contribution that radio amateurs make to mobile based emergency communications by issuing special call sign license plates, so that emergency responders such as the OPP can recognize us and utilize our networks as needed. Over the past fifty years there have been few, if any, automobile crashes where the operation of Amateur Radio communications equipment was found to be a contributing factor. Amateur Radio handheld and mobile radios are similar in nature and operation to those used by police, fire and other federal and provincial agencies. If consideration is given to exempt the same equipment when used by those agencies, we submit that Amateur Radio equipment also should be exempted.
Why cannot Radio Amateurs take advantage of the kind of hands-free technology now offered in the latest cellular telephones? Those cellular telephones that contain true hands-free technology are very sophisticated designs that contain voice recognition computers designed for that service. Elaborate "speaker-phone" type circuitry is also needed to allow the use of the accessory hands-free speaker as both speaker and microphone without need for a separate microphone and/or earphone. The retrofitting of a true hands-free setup to Amateur Radio equipment is probably completely impractical, and even the most modern and elaborate Amateur Radio transceivers do not contain true hands-free operation. Although a combination single earpiece / boom microphone is available to Radio Amateurs at relatively moderate cost, the application of even this limited "pseudo-hands-free" capability to a variety of brands of radios is not always simple or effective. On the other hand, limiting the use of Amateur Radios to passenger use, or driver operation only when parked, severely restricts the ability of the Radio Amateur to be of service to the community when the need is greatest. Often there are too few volunteers for two people in one vehicle. Such impediments or delays in emergency communications response could contribute to loss or additional injury to life and property of the public.
Surely the core problem that inspired Bill 49 is driver inattention and not the electronic technology itself. The driver's conscious choice to irresponsibly use a cellular telephone should be the target. Ontario's police forces already have use of the Careless Driving infraction to enforce safe driving. There have been reports of commuting drivers attempting to read a newspaper while in motion, watching a portable TV from the driver's seat, applying lipstick, or drying one's hair. These have not resulted in attempts to eliminate newspapers, television, lipstick, or hair dryers. However, few would argue that those drivers do not deserve a ticket for Careless Driving, six demerit points and a safe-driving interview. It is tragic that the driver and child who recently were killed by a train in your area could not now benefit from such counseling. That case has been sufficiently publicized that it should have a positive effect on the driving habits of all level crossing users. Driver inattention at that level crossing may have been the only cause of those deaths.
The overwhelming majority of Ontario's more than 18,000 federally licensed Radio Amateurs are responsible people. It is that sense of responsibility that moves so many of them to volunteer their equipment and time in support of their communities and relief agencies. When safety-inspired improvements to their equipment are practical, Radio Amateurs can be counted upon to make the changes, and entirely at their own expense. However, if the regulations that could result from Bill 49 require Ontario's police forces to start ticketing equipment operation that is analogous to their own use of mobile and portable radios, many of the Radio Amateurs, who will be unable to comply with those regulations, will be forced to withdraw their voluntary services. The citizens of Ontario will be the net losers. On behalf of the Radio Amateurs of Canada, we respectfully ask that Bill 49 be modified to exempt all forms of radiocommunications by Radio Amateurs.
Radio Amateurs of Canada, Inc
Original signed by:
Ken Oelke - President
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