Commuter cellphone vigilante fined $48,000 by FCC

By Michelle Megna


No cellphone signIf you commute a certain 12-mile stretch of Interstate 4 between Seffner and Tampa, Florida, and wondered why your calls always dropped out on the drive, the Feds now have an answer for you.

A Florida man was recently busted for using a cellphone jammer on his commute to prevent fellow motorists from talking on their phones while driving, according to the Federal Communication Commission.

Jason R. Humphreys was fined $48,000 by the FCC for using a cellphone jammer in his car during his daily commute between Seffner and Tampa.

"Mr. Humphreys’ illegal operation of the jammer apparently continued for up to two years, caused actual interference to cellular service along a swath of Interstate 4, and disrupted police and other emergency communications," the FCC said in a document of the incident posted at its website.

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The FCC imposed the maximum fine of $16,000 for each of the offenses—unauthorized operation, use of an illegal device, and causing intentional interference.

Florida is one of the states where it is legal to talk on a cellphone while driving, even without a hands-free system, but using a cellphone jammer is illegal for everyone except federal law enforcement, regardless of intent, according to the FCC.

Metro PCS on April 29, 2013, reported to the FCC that its towers along a stretch of Interstate 4 between Seffner and Tampa, about 12 miles apart, were experiencing interference during commuting hours. The FCC investigated the matter and in early May of last year, determined the blocking emissions were coming from a blue Toyota Highlander SUV with a Florida license plate.

With backup from the local sheriff's office, FCC agents pulled over the SUV, talked to Humphreys and searched the vehicle, where they found the jammer behind a seat cover on the back seat, the FCC said.

How do car insurance companies handle cellphone tickets?

Twelve states and Washington, D.C., prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA). They are:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

Currently, 43 states ban text messaging for all drivers, and all but five have primary enforcement, meaning you can be pulled over just for texting. Of the seven states without a texting ban for all drivers, four prohibit texting by novice drivers and three restrict school bus drivers from texting.

So what happens if you are ticketed for using your phone behind the wheel?

In several states, cellphone tickets are treated like parking tickets, which means you're not penalized with points. Other states, including Nevada, forgive a first offense. And some, like New York, levy multiple points even on the first offense.  Regardless of state laws, some car insurance companies may forgive a first offense if you have a clean driving record otherwise.

 If you're cited in a state where cellphone violations add points to your driving record or are considered moving violations, an insurer may raise your premiums upon review of your driving record.

Based on the infractions on your driving record, your rates rise by a predetermined amount at certain thresholds under your insurer's own point and surcharge system.

Michelle Megna is managing editor of CarInsurance.com.

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