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Health Tips for Cell Phone Safety


What’s the real story on driving with cell phones, the use of hands-free phones and cell phone health risks? And why pick on cell phones, when we do so many other things in the car, like listen to the radio and books on tape?

Hands-free not always safer
Recent studies have shown that it’s focusing on a conversation that’s dangerous, not the act of holding a telephone while driving. In one study, participants who were on the phone missed twice as many simulated traffic signals as they did when they were not on the phone. And they took longer to react to the signals that they did detect—whether they were using hand-held or hands-free phones.

But what about the radio, books on tape, etc.?
It appears that listening to music, radio programs, books on tape, etc. do not pose nearly the risk that having a conversation does. Having a conversation with someone requires a lot more focus. The radio, CDs and tapes aren’t waiting for your answer, so you feel less engaged with them than you do with a live person.

What about having a conversation with someone else in the car?

Now you may be thinking, “But I have conversations all the time when there’s a passenger in the car. Why don’t you talk about the risk of that?”

Sure, if you get so involved in a conversation with a passenger that you’re not paying attention to the road, then you’re increasing your risk of an accident. But there’s a difference between having a conversation with someone who’s in the car with you and someone who’s not. People in the car are more in tune with what’s happening on the road. When things are a little bit dicey—if you’re not sure where you’re going, if traffic is heavy, if there’s suddenly an accident up ahead and you need to concentrate—the person with you takes note of that and often stops talking until you’ve figured out what you need to do. On the other hand, the person on the telephone is completely unaware of what you dealing with, and that’s what makes the big difference.

If you do use your cell phone in the car, there are some safer ways to do it.

  • Pull over when you dial
  • Don’t have emotional or complicated discussions while you’re driving
  • Keep conversations short
  • Don’t talk on the phone when you’re merging, driving in heavy traffic, etc.

What about cancer risk?
According to the Food and Drug Administration, there’s no current evidence that talking on a cell phone increases cancer risk. But researchers acknowledge that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of cell phone use. It’s known that high levels of radiofrequency can cause biological damage because of heating effects, but cell phones don’t create heat.

If you want to make sure to lower your health risk from cell phones:

  • Keep conversations short
  • Make sure children talk on cell phones infrequently, because if there are long-term effects, children would be most vulnerable
  • Consider using headsets so that your ear does not receive as much exposure to the radiofrequency

Food and Drug Administration; National Safety Council; Injury Insights newsletter, August/September 2001
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