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Commentary: Common sense and cell phones

Gartner says the persistent talk about cell phone safety is enough to make anyone worried, but common sense should reassure most people.

By Bob Egan, Gartner Analyst

The persistent talk about cell phone safety is enough to make anyone worried, but common sense should reassure most people.

The debate regarding the physiological effects of cell phone use, such as brain tumors, will continue, and doubtless researchers will do more work. Gartner's more immediate concerns center on people who use cell phones while driving or who leave their cell phones switched on while flying.

See news story:
Cell phone safety a tough call
The most visible and undeniably valid health concern about the use of cell phones is not a physiological effect--at least, not immediately. Driving and talking on a cell phone is like drinking and driving. In both cases, the driver's reaction time is slowed, especially in the event of a roadway mishap requiring urgent response. In addition, a driver likely cannot give the same level of attention to driving as when not using a cell phone.

Keeping a cell phone (or pager) switched on during a flight is asking for trouble. The chief protection against an in-flight catastrophe is the time the pilot has in which to recover from a malfunction before hitting the ground. That is one of the reasons that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration established 10,000 feet as the normal height at which a pilot is allowed to talk on the intercom to passengers and at which passengers may use electronic devices (subject to the judgment of the pilot in command).

Fortunately, for both the driving and flying problems, the remedies are straightforward: Do not drive and talk on the phone. Do not fly and keep your phone active.

Using a cell phone is like eating a big, fat, greasy hamburger, knowing that it may not be good for you. If you follow some common sense practices, you can improve your chances of living a long and productive life. But Gartner believes that people will not give up using cell phones--and do not need to.

Although common sense about cell phone use will satisfy individuals, it will likely not be enough for companies. Gartner encourages companies to establish enforceable policies that require the use of headsets for everyone except the most infrequent user. Hands-free kits are also available for use in vehicles, although every one that we have used has been technically substandard due to audio quality and in-car background noise.

Few laws have been enacted in the United States restricting cell phone use while driving, but legislation is pending in about 40 states and in Congress. Japan has adopted a three-year ban.

Perhaps more importantly, insurance companies will likely get involved. Gartner believes that by 2003, companies will pay higher insurance premiums if they have not established policies to prohibit or minimize the use of cell phones while driving--especially for workers on the road frequently, such as salespeople.

(For related commentary on potential liability exposure with employees using cell phones, see registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.