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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Cell Phone Has Not Yet Replaced The Family Two-Way Radio

This is Steven Petrick posting.

If you are going to travel a long distance by road, and there is going to be more than one vehicle involved in the operation, it can be a good investment to purchase some small two-way radios.

A lot of people think these unnecessary in this era of cell phones, but actually a couple of radios can be a good investment for such a trip.

While if you get separated, cell phones are quite adequate, that is to say you can make contact and arrange a link up, their continuous use presents problems. You use up "minutes" and these cost money to replace, so you tend to not be in "continuous contact." And there is always the risk of being in a "dead zone" where the cell phone, or just your particular cell phone, will not operate. (SVC and I have encountered this phenomena on Origins trips when trying to call back to the office, there are some stretches of road where his cell phone cannot get a signal and mine can, and other stretches where the obverse is true.) A few radios with a five mile or so range gets around this quite handily.

When your convoy (remember, this is mostly about more than one vehicle moving in a given direction) has to exit the roadway, whether for fuel or food or a rest stop, sometimes getting back on the roadway with traffic can divide the march serial. On interstates, both (or all) vehicles can get on the roadway with (provided you do not have a near transition to a new interstate) and the lead vehicles simply need to travel slightly less than the speed limit. The "navigators" in the various vehicles can then simply call out the mile makers as they pass (going east to west, the mile makers will count down, going west to east they will count up). Thus each vehicle will know the distance between them until visual contact is regained.

Sure, you can do that with cell phones, but doing so requires making the call and maintaining an open line until the link up. Minding your time elements and batteries also requires you to "hang up" the cell phones until it is necessary to make another contact. With the radios, the communications net is always open  (as the batteries on the radios are usually good for a day or two of continuous use). Thus if an emergency comes up, no time is lost dialing, even if you have a ready set button, you just "push to talk." (Useful in our trip to Carolina as the nimbler lead vehicle was able to call back warnings of road hazards to the stodgy truck giving it the opportunity to move into another lane and avoid them, for example.)

Some simple signals can be worked out for limited visibility events. A case in point: after a momentary break between the two vehicles, the lead vehicle was confirmed by the trail asking for the lead vehicle to hit the left signal for one blink and then immediately hit the right signal for one blink. In the dark between towns and in the traffic, it was possible for the trail vehicle to have started following the wrong car. When you have one driver and no navigator trying to maintain operations and depending on the lead vehicle to get through intersections with other interstates in traffic, taking the wrong off ramp can be a real hazard (admittedly just meaning lost time and added miles). The "contact signal" confirmed that the trail vehicle was also still on the correct route. Taking the time and eyes off the road to use a cell phone in such traffic was not an option, but the handy little radio was more than up to that task, requiring no visual use to "push to talk."

When you dismount, take the radio with you and if you split up for any reason, you can still stay in contact, and the radio's contact is continuous and does not cost any more for "conference calls" with all members having one.