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Two-Way Radio Users Worried California's Cellphone Ban Is Too Broad

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Back in January, it became illegal to hold your cell phone while driving. But now some drivers say the law unfairly targets radio users as well and they want that to change.

"I'm driving down the road and talking on this radio," said Norm Lucas, holding his high frequency radio microphone. "Doing that simple act while driving is a $20 ticket."

For Lucas, ham radio is more than a hobby. It's been his lifestyle since he was 12.

"It's enjoyable," Lucas said. "Somebody could come back to you from 40 miles away or 4,000 miles away."

But Lucas says his favorite pastime is now in danger. He's referring to a law written by Assemblyman Bill Quirk in an effort to cut down on distracted driving. It's the same law that makes it illegal to use your cellphone behind the wheel.

AB 1785 defines an "electronic wireless communications device" as "…a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, a pager, or a two-way messaging device."

Lucas told CBS13 several police agencies as well as CHP have told him that the law includes the two-way radios he uses every day. So he and a friend created a petition on calling the definition of a wireless device "ambiguous" and urging Quirk to clarify the law's intent.

"Two-way radio operations would be exempt," he said, regarding suggested new language to the law.

CBS13 reached out to Quirk to find out whether or not the law intended to ban radios while driving. Quirk's Chief of Staff Tomasa Duenas said, "CHP does not believe that the language in the vehicle code applies to the use of handheld-amateur radio devices. CHP plans to issue a statewide directive that details their official interpretation of the law."

Lucas believes that's a step in the right direction, but said CHP's interpretation of the law is no substitute for a clarification directly from the legislature.

"It shows a lot of promise right now," he said. "Things are fluid and we're just going to have to wait and see."

Quirk has introduced AB 1222 to clarify the law's language and he plans to submit a letter to the Assembly Journal further explaining the bill's intent.

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