Mobile Phones and Health
Public concerns about risks to health and safety from mobile phone use can be grouped under three main headings. They are:
Handsets - potential risks to the health of the individual from regular use of mobile phones.
Masts - potential risks to the health of local communities where masts or base stations are erected.
Distraction - potential risks to the safety of the individual when use of a mobile phone causes a distraction: for example, when driving.
Mobile phones emit and receive radio waves which are a form of electromagnetic radiation or microwave. There have been reports which link the absorption of microwaves by the human body to a range of health problems. These include; increased susceptibility to headaches and allergies, and the development of various forms of cancer. The current position of the UK government reflects the findings of the Stewart Group which reported on health risks associated with mobile phones in May 2000. Whilst accepting that there is no evidence of a link between mobile phone use and serious health problems, the Department of Health suggests a 'precautionary approach'. There is evidence that brain activity may be modified and the Department recommends controlled use, especially by children.
Masts are tall steel structures which support antennas at a height where they can send and receive radio waves. Base stations are transmitters and receivers located in cabins or cabinets and connected, by cable, to the antennas. There have been numerous campaigns directed against the siting of transmitters in communities or near public buildings, especially schools or other places used by children. Heating of the body by microwaves has been put forward as a danger, also the supposed risk from magnetic fields. The Stewart Group looked at the risks from transmitters and concluded that ' there is no general risk to the health of people living near base stations'. The Department of Health warns that, because of patterns of radio wave transmission, higher concentrations of waves can occur at ground level at some distance from the mast, however, such concentrations should be well within internationally agreed safe levels.
'Results of research (in Canada).... suggest that mobile phone use quadruples the risk of a collision during the period of a call and that the enhanced hazard period extends for several minutes afterwards'.
In the UK, the cause of road accidents is not recorded in official statistics, so it is not possible to say how many accidents are a direct result of mobile phone use. However, a report from RoSPA ( Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) has listed 19 cases, reported in their press between 1988 and 2001, in which a fatal accident occured as a result of the use of a mobile whilst driving. Motoring organisations and the Federation of Communication Services (FCS) which represents the UK's mobile phone industry, recognise that the use of hand-held mobiles whilst driving is not safe. The Department of Transport also advises against the use of hands-free phones as these will also affect the driver's concentration. The Department has stated that it would be impractical to ban hands-free use: but legislation has been introduced, banning the use of hand-held mobiles.
Under the Road Safety Act, from 27th Februray 2007, motorists using hand-held phones whilst at the wheel will be fined 0 and 3 points on their licence. Full details may be found on the Department for Transport's website.
Advice and guidance on the use of mobile phones may also be found on theInstitute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) website.
It should also be noted that motorists who use mobiles whilst driving risk being prosecuted under other legislation.
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