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Mobile health and safety

Early carphone material, 1982

On the road : look no hands 

In the UK before 2003 you could happily use a handheld mobile phone whilst driving but after concerns about road safety their use was banned except for emergencies. Research showed that the distraction caused by using a mobile meant you were four times more likely to crash.

Many earlier mobile phones for the cellular network came with ‘hands free’ operation either as part of their in-car design or as an accessory so the issue of using a handheld mobile whilst driving is a relatively recent problem.

With people often changing their mobile phones every 12 to 24 months, more frequently than their car, the idea of installing a dedicated handsfree adapter died away. Bluetooth connectivity largely solved the problem by allowing users to link a cordless headset with their phone.

More recently Bluetooth connectivity is being built into many cars, most even providing voice dialling and so true handsfree has arrived.


Hands free mobile phone device

How safe are mobiles?

Concerns over the safety of mobile phones have been around for a number of years but, as yet, there is no definitive evidence to prove that either using a mobile phone or that base stations have any long term health effects. With mobile phones only being around for a short while it may take some time before sufficient data is available to decide one way or another. Currently (2012) the UK Health Protect Agency’s advice only extends to discouraging children for “excessive use” of mobile phones.

Whilst people talk about mobile phones giving off radiation and quite naturally get concerned with thoughts of nuclear reactors and weapons it is worth mentioning that, unlike these things, mobile phones do not give off ionizing radiation, that is the kind of radiation that breakdowns DNA and causes cancer. The type of radiation given off by mobiles is more like that from a microwave oven and whilst they have their own safety aspects the food doesn’t come out radioactive.

Recently the siting of base stations, especially near schools, has been an issue with both parents and governors. However, this needs to be compared to the exposure from handheld mobiles which is hundreds of times more powerful due to being used close to the body, with no proven ill effects, than the emissions from a base station antenna high up on a mast or building.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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