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To CB or not to CB?

Posted: August 1, 2014

CALGARY — In Alberta that’s still the question.

There continues to be some ambiguities with the legislation the province passed last month as it pertains to CB usage by commercial drivers; and it could remain clouded until regulators — or, perhaps, the courts — clear it up.

At first glance, the province’s sweeping new anti-distracted driving law included a ban on hand-held CB radios, except for truck drivers who are required to maintain radio contact for "commercial purposes" as well as emergency vehicle operators.

After an interview with outgoing Alberta Motor Transport Association director Mayne Root, todaystrucking.com reported that the ban for "recreational use" of CBs covers only non-commercial drivers or off-duty truck drivers and regulators assured, Root insisted, that drivers chatting on Channel 19 would be able to continue doing so.

A subsequent industry report then pointed out that, technically, the exemption only applies to commercial drivers who are "required to communicate with their employers" and does not cover "recreational use."

Though, in practice, Today’s Trucking recently discovered that the rule isn’t that black and white after all, as questions still linger around the definitions of "recreational use" and "commercial activity."

There’s a few things about the CB
provision, Alberta hasn’t thought about.

We followed up with Marlene Anderson, Alberta Transportation‘s manager of Policy and Research for the Office of Traffic Safety, who reiterated that the rule, as its currently written, permits only truck drivers "who are required by their employer" to use a "hand-held two-way communication device for purposes of contacting employers while acting within the scope of that individual’s employment."

"So," she added, "recreational use of a hand-held two-way device is not permitted."

But when asked specifically about drivers discussing with other truckers, via the CB, such things traffic conditions, rest area availability or countless other day-to-day operational issues and whether that sort of chatter constitutes "commercial" or "recreational" use as required by the employer, Anderson avoided commenting directly — admitting, upon hearing the scenarios, that the ministry still might not "have all the answers."

Todaystrucking.com also pointed out that the "communicating with the employer" limitation doesn’t exactly mesh with real-world industry practices since drivers don’t typically use a standard CB to stay in touch with headquarters – nor can they from the road since most traditional CBs under normal conditions have a range of just a few kilometers. (In the U.S. it’s actually illegal to go beyond 150 miles with a CB — it’s called "shooting skip" — because the radios are meant to be local).

It appears, then, that many of these specific scenarios weren’t fully realized by regulators when they were fine-tuning the technicalities of the CB provision.

In fact, Anderson asked if we would forward some examples of situations of drivers needing to use CBs while out on the highway, "so we can look at them and clarify them through our processes."

Until then, Root stands by his interpretation of the exemption for "commercial purposes," which he says was explained to him by policy makers.

"When I talked to the people putting together the rule, it was explained to me … that if an employer requires you to have a radio, if you’re talking on it while you’re functioning as a truck driver, you are fulfilling your work requirements," he says in a follow-up interview.

"Can I foresee somewhere down the road that maybe a ticket is given because a guy tells the officer he was talking about something other than work or trucking? Who knows?"

He continues: "For one thing — and I come from the enforcement side –how would they even prove what it is you’re talking about?

"But even if technically that is considered not to be commercial work, perhaps then it’ll have to come down to some court decisions," speculates Root. "But I’d be hard pressed to think that a court could find a guy guilty because the CB isn’t part of his work.

"The way I see it is the radio is required by your employer for your use."

While CBs aren’t used anywhere as frequently as they used to be, that appears — tentatively we admit — to be good news for those die-hards that still like to get their old-school ears on.

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