Is Cell Phone the Real Culprit?

Cell phones are occupying an enviable position in our lives. Most of us are willing to forgo everything in our lives to have access to our cell phones 24×7. At the same time, there is a huge campaign going on about its harmful side effects. The innocent-looking cute device is accused of causing accidents, creating health disorders including cancer and triggering behavioral problems, especially in children.

Reports from ER doctors suggest that the cell phones are to be blamed for the increase in road accidents. Drivers and pedestrians are concentrating on the phone instead of paying attention to the road and traffic. They tend to forget their surroundings when they are text messaging. Drivers lose control of their vehicle and pedestrians wander into roads, unmindful of the trouble they are creating for themselves and others. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) has zeroed in on text messaging as the most life-threatening activity.

The Danish National Birth Cohort conducted a survey this week that confirmed the long held belief that children exposed to cell phones either before or after birth are found to have low Emotional Quotient or EQ. They suffer from hyperactivity, behavioral problems and have difficulty in gaining acceptance among the peer group.

Dr. Ronald B Herberman, Director, University of Pittsburg Cancer Institute, recently warned the faculty and staff to keep their children away from cell phones. At least reduce the usage to a minimum or only during emergencies.

Law bans cell phone use for drivers in most states. This law was formulated on the belief that using a cell phone may distract the attention of the driver leading to accidents.

From Russia, reports have come in finding fault with cell phones for lightning deaths. The dead were using cell phones during lightning. It is believed that using cell phones is riskier than a usual lightning hazard like standing under a tree when lightning strikes.

All these reports, findings and studies are hell-bent on proving only one point –cell phones are deadly, they cause injury, cancer and even death.

This is a serious allegation, which becomes graver due to exponential rise of cell phone usage among the population. In the last two decades, the number of cell phones in the US has seen a whopping 5000% growth.

Two decades back, only a handful of people used cell phones. Now, may be a handful are not using this technology. If these allegations are true, then the incidence of injuries, cancer and death among population must also increase exponentially. From the information available, this is not the case.

Let us analyze each allegation and find out the truth.

What happens in the ER?

The report of ER doctors, attributing cell phone usage to increased injuries and death in road accidents, needs clarity. Actual figures or percentages of cell phone-related accidents are not provided. ERs record the reason for the accident. If the figures were substantial, they should be able to provide detailed statistics. Only because the number is negligible, ER doctors are refraining from giving the actual figures. Instead, they choose to be vague about it.

Accidental injuries account for 31 million ER visits in a year. The reasons listed under ‘accidental injuries’ include car accidents, falls, drowning, burns, accidents involving bicycles, accidents occurring in playgrounds, poisoning and injuries occurring at work place. This list is arranged in the decreasing order of frequency. Text messaging comes nowhere near the top five in the list.

The statistics for the year 2003 show that a huge number of patients, close to 1.7 million, visited ER, because of wrong treatment or aftereffects of treatment given to them by doctors. This means that cell phones are less deadly than a doctor visit.

No doubt, text messaging while driving distracts the driver. However, when there are so many other reasons and causes worse than this, why should cell phones be targeted?

The myth behind hyperactivity

While finding fault with cell phone radiation for hyperactivity among children, Danish National Birth Cohort study has found that there are many other causes for behavioral disorders. When the parents are using cell phones, they fail to pay attention to their children, which may lead to distorted behavior. The economic and social status of the parents also contributes to increased phone usage.

The media is taking pains to put the blame on cell phones for all behavioral problems found in children. The reason behind this is beyond comprehension.

The case of the misleading memo

Dr. Herberman, when he sent the memo to his staff, asking them to keep children away from cell phones, did so, as there are unconfirmed theories floating around that may be proved right in future. However, the study already published is not conclusive and does not blame cell phones for increased incidence of cancer.

The study on brain tumor patients on the effect of cell phone use on the growth of tumor has yielded no positive results. The research scientists at the University of Utah analyzed nine such studies, but could not find any increase in the growth of tumors or any additional risk for developing brain tumors. Another study conducted in Europe also confirms this result.

Some studies on the relation of cell phone usage and cancer have yielded positive results. However, the overall picture gives an inconclusive and contradictory verdict. The only sensible deduction that may be derived from these studies is that usage of cell phones over a prolonged period, say 2 or 3 decades might increase the risk of cancer. Even this is not proved inconclusively.

Activities can be segregated into three groups – one, that definitely causes cancer, two, that may cause cancer and three, that is not even remotely connected to cancer.

Those activities in the first category are proved beyond doubt by scientific methods that they will lead to cancer. The most prominent among them are food colors, food cooked at very high temperatures, red meat and processed meat, alcohol, soft drinks and a few bath products for children.

When most of these listed items are very common in daily life, why has Dr. Herberman singled out cell phones? The cafeterias in the university most probably serve some of the aforementioned food items as well. When people are using proven cancer-causing agents, why warn about suspected ones?

Why a scientist of Dr. Herberman’s caliber ignores this reasoning and warns his staff about something that is not even proved? Why is cell phone causing so much reaction among researchers?

Rational Thinking

Even though cell phone is blamed for the ever-increasing road accidents, in fact, it has nothing to do with it. When something goes wrong, it is the natural tendency of people around to find a scapegoat. It does not mean that the blamed person or thing really did anything wrong.

In a rough estimate, 5% drivers in the United States use cell phones while driving. If cell phones are to be blamed, in at least 5% of the car accidents, using cell phones while driving must be the cause. However, the percentage only represents the chance of accident rather than the cause of accident. 5% of all car accidents in the United States involve a cell phone user by chance. This means that the phone did not cause the accident.

Out of the six million car accidents happening in the US, with about 43,000 fatal cases, around 300,000 of them should be connected to cell phone usage. However, by the previous argument, cell phone only increased the chance of these accidents and did not the cause of the accident.

Still, when car accidents occur, the blame goes to cell phones. It is true that some accidents are actually happening due to cell phone usage. However, the rest of the accidents attributed to cell phones are involving drivers using cell phones, but it not being the cause of the accident. These accidents happened due to various other reasons. Despite all this evidence, cell phone gets the blame.

While investigating a car accident, it is impossible to prove that the driver was distracted due to cell phone. The same applies to daydreaming, listening to radio or even talking to a passenger. When a driver involved in an accident was found using cell phone at the time of the accident, it is fixed as the cause and not as coincidence.

Statistically it is true that the number of car accidents involving drivers using cell phones has risen in the past few years. Why should this be blown out of proportion? A few years ago, the number of cell phone users was much less and people did not rely on phones much. Now cell phones have become an inevitable part of our lives.

With the popularity of cell phones and it being blamed for maximum road accidents, the percentage of accidents should be higher than that a few years back, but this is not the case. In reality, the percentage of accidents has come down over years. When there is no increase in the accident rate in spite of the increase in the cell phone users, why is the cell phone getting the blame?

With all these facts and figures favoring cell phones, how is it possible to place the entire blame of road accidents on cell phones alone?

Some Facts

Even though the Russian officials are claiming that cell phone usage during lightning invites lightning strikes, actually the metal part of the phone may be the actual culprit. When people go around with metal in hand during thunderstorms, it is no wonder that lightning strikes them.

As the number of lightning casualties is negligible in the US, it will be further miniscule for cell phone users. When there are so many proven death causes, why is cell phone as a death trap inviting this much attention?


Instead of looking into the real issue, cell phones are made easy scapegoats for accidents. Consider the case of a careless driver or a pedestrian. They show their carelessness even while using cell phones, which may lead to accidents. Even after being aware of the potential risks of consuming cancer-causing foods, many indulge in these. And these very same people blame cell phone radiations as cancerous!

A parent, who is slack in childcare, will continue to do so with the advent of cell phone. A cell phone will distract a driver who finds it difficult to concentrate on driving. It is totally unfair to blame the cell phone for all these troubles.

There is no denying that cell phones actually cause accidents, but the number is very small when compared to other reasons.

By banning cell phones while driving is not going to produce a remarkable reduction in the number of road accidents. Neither will it help parents in raising well-behaved children by avoiding them.

Like in all things, better judgment and proper precaution can make all the difference. For a healthy tomorrow, practice good food habits, concentrate on your activities whether it is driving, walking or rollerblading and be an attentive parent.

Be responsible for your actions, instead of blaming a mute electronic gadget.

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