Physical Hazards from Cell Phone Use


Although the radiation risk from the use of cell phones is considered to be small, there are other substantially more serious hazards related to use of these phones. Many people use them while they are performing tasks that demand the user’s complete attention. Following some general rules will help in reducing these hazards:

  • Avoid using a cell phone while driving or while operating dangerous equipment (power tools, lawn mowers, etc.).
  • If you need to use a cell phone while driving, make sure that it is a hands-free system, especially in states and municipalities in which the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving is prohibited by law (this includes California).
  • Keep in mind that the danger related to cell phone conversations while driving is not solely due to only having one hand on the steering wheel. Rather, conducting a phone conversation causes driver inattention/distraction which in turn can lead to accidents. Drivers appear to be particularly prone to distraction during lengthy or emotionally-charged phone conversations.
  • Never read or write text messages in a moving vehicle! Also, do not inscribe information on paper that is conveyed to you over your hands-free phone (phone numbers, addresses, etc.) while driving. Don’t take notes or look up phone numbers in phone books.

If it is absolutely necessary to use a cell phone while driving a vehicle, adhering to some simple rules will greatly reduce the likelihood of accidents. Make sure that you:

  • Are prepared for possible calls by having your hands-free device in a readily available location. It can be dangerous to have to search through a purse or bag for a phone while in a moving vehicle.
  • Don’t try to figure out how to use special features of a phone until it is safe (do that ahead of time).
  • Don’t use the phone at all while driving in bad weather conditions (rain, fog, snow, etc.).
  • Dial phone numbers only while at stop lights or stop signs, or pull over to the side of the road to talk.
  • Keep phone calls as brief as possible.
  • Practice using the phone prior to using it while driving.
  • Your cell phone screen is probably too small for you to quickly see who is calling, so don’t check for caller ID info while driving; it’s just too distracting. Let incoming calls go to voice mail and retrieve the messages later when it is safe.
  • Be careful when pulling over to the side of the road to place phone calls. To avoid being a crime victim, do not stop in dangerous areas and keep your car doors locked and windows closed. Make sure 911 is programmed into your phone.
  • Don’t stop on the highway to make or answer a cell phone call. It can be dangerous to pull over onto a highway shoulder and then merge back into fast-moving traffic. If you need to make a call while you’re on the highway, get off at the nearest exit to make the call.
  • Print driving directions in large lettering before you leave. If you get lost driving to an appointment, it’s tempting to simply call the person you’ll be meeting and ask for assistance. Printing out directions to refer to only when you’re parked (or in Los Angeles traffic – there’s no difference; you are stopped either way) helps you avoid that temptation.
  • Concentrate on the road! Don’t get carried away talking on the phone. Keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

Note: It is not only during driving that people can experience safety problems when distracted by a cell phone conversation. People have been reported to have walked into traffic, fallen into ditches, and walked against red lights while on the phone. Try to limit conversations to times when you can devote your full concentration to the call.

This information is provided by UCI’s EH&S Department.