Phones 'Blind' Drivers, Study Shows
Mon Jan 27, 6:21 PM ET
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By Maggie Fox
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Drivers who use a cellular telephone,
even with a "hands-free" device, suffer from a kind of tunnel
vision that endangers themselves and others, US researchers said on Monday.
Legislation that seeks to make mobile telephone use
by drivers safer by mandating the use of a hands-free device may be providing
a false sense of security, they warned.
New York is the only US state that requires the use
of hands-free devices for mobile telephone conversations while driving,
but 30 others have been considering similar laws, as has the Canadian
province of Newfoundland.
"Sometimes you have to actually do the silly study
that shows the obvious," David Strayer, an associate professor of
psychology at the University of Utah, who led the study, said in a telephone
Strayer, whose team has done a series of studies on
cell phone use while driving, set up a driving simulator and put 20 volunteers
in it. Sometimes they used a cell phone and sometimes they did not. Their
reaction time, driving style and performance were monitored.
Writing in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental
Psychology: Applied, Strayer's group said use of a cell phone clearly
distracted the drivers.
The finding adds to a series of similar studies-most
notably a 1997 New England Journal of Medicine (news - web sites) report
that found talking on a phone while driving quadrupled the risk of an
"People, when on a cell phone compared to when
they weren't, overall their reactions were slower," Strayer said.
"They got into more rear-end collisions. They just kind of had a
sluggish style that was unresponsive to unpredictable events like a car
breaking down in front of them, a light changing and things like that."
There was no difference, Strayer said, between using a hands-free or a
hand-held cell phone.
IMPAIRED EITHER WAY
"You were impaired in both cases," he said.
"That suggests to us that whatever legislation may be put into place
saying you can do one but not the other...might send the wrong message
and give people a false sense of security."
Perhaps even more disturbing, Strayer said, was the
finding that the volunteers did not realize they were driving badly. "We
asked people afterward how they felt they performed and they usually felt
they performed without impairment and, in some cases, thought they drove
better when on the cell phones," Strayer said.
"It is like studies that show 90% of people think
they are better- than-average drivers. Forty percent of them are wrong."
Strayer wanted to know why talking on a cell phone had such a profound
effect on drivers, so his team set up a second experiment.
"We used an eye tracker-a really precise device
that allows us to see where someone is looking," he said. They found
that while the drivers looked at objects, in this case billboards, if
they had been talking on a cell phone at the time they could not remember
having seen them.
"There is a kind of a tunnel vision-you aren't
processing the peripheral information as well," Strayer said. "Even
though your eyes are looking right at something, when you are on the cell
phone, you are not as likely to see it."
This included road signs, other vehicles and traffic
lights. "This is a variant of something called inattention blindness,"
Tests showed this kind of inattention did not affect
drivers who were listening to music, to audio books or talking with a
passenger in the car.
Informant: Gotemf and Robert Riedlinger
Following is an excellent
critique of the site "Base Station Radiation Maps for the City of
Ottawa, Canada" by Clas Tegenfeldt.
The "emfinfo" site may seem worthwhile to
read - at first, but it is a site designed to firmly dismiss any claim
that EMFs, power frequency or RF, may be harmful in any way. The man behind
the site remains anonymous and there is no clue whatsoever who are responsible
for the site. The maps with cellular coverage measurements are also designed
to calm people down, instead of decibel which is customary the color coding
is done linearly, intended to give an even calmer message. The coding
is not done according to field strength but as a quotient of the maximum
safety limit in effect in Canada, thus making a statement "see how
low this is", BUT no emissions are allowed breaking limits set in
law - are they? Shouldn´t it be perfectly clear that cellular basestations/phones
are within limits? The discussion about EMF health effects are concerning
mechanisms not covered by the limits as of today.
I cannot recommend the "emfinfo" site at
all since it is missleading and anonymous (for me anonymous sites are
always suspect, cowardly).
Informant: Don Maisch (excerpt)
and from the same informant:
The Body Electric
Are electrical appliances dangerous to your health?
Joyce Slaton, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, October 17, 2002
</>©>003 SF Gate
For decades, power companies and official scientific
entities such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World
Health Organization have been telling the public that there are almost
no credible health risks from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that emanate
from power lines, power transformers and every single appliance that runs
on electricity. The official public-health-agency position is that, aside
from a small increased risk of childhood leukemia, consumers are perfectly
safe no matter how many appliances litter their homes and offices, or
how many power lines exist nearby. But a newly completed $8 million, seven-year
study by the http://www.dhs.cahwnet.gov/ps/deodc/ehib/emf/
California Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) Program has something quite
different -- and quite alarming -- to say.
"To one degree or another, all three of the scientists
who worked on the EMF Program are inclined to believe that electromagnetic
fields (EMFs) can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia,
adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and miscarriage," says Dr.
Raymond Neutra, one of the scientists who wrote the report. Neutra is
chief of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control
for California's Department of Health Services (DHS), which ran the study
with funding provided by the state's Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
Considering that most of us work and live in areas
full of electronics in appliances from refrigerators to television sets
to computers, each of which emits more than one EMF frequency, the EMF
Program's linking of health problems to the fields is cause for some alarm.
If you sit in front of a computer all day long, should you be worried?
Will you get a brain tumor if you live too close to a power line or routinely
use a copy machine? Is that friendly-looking little electric pencil sharpener
sending out waves of energy that'll kill you someday?
The answers aren't easy, but assessing your risk starts
with some basic background on the fields. Artificially generated EMFs
are produced when alternating current passes through a wire or device
-- like when you flip on your computer, or pop bread down into the toaster.
The force that's produced, an EMF, exerts pressure on everything around
it -- your body, the kitchen counters, your desk, you name it. This pressure
is not necessarily harmful. After all, you may remember from Science 101
that Earth has its own static magnetic fields, with magnetic poles located
roughly at our North and South Poles. We don't fully understand why these
magnetic fields exist or how they're generated, but humans evolved in
their presence, and it's thought that many basic functions such as sleep
and sense of direction are governed largely and unconsciously by these
About a hundred years ago, however, humans started
figuring out how to generate and use electricity, thereby changing the
kinds of fields we are exposed to. These fields are not static, as are
Earth's own EMFs. Human-exposure conditions created by artificially generated
EMFs can vary dramatically according to the type of wiring, the number
of appliances in an area, how many of those appliances are turned on at
a given time and how close a person is to those devices. Exposure to EMFs
can range from barely detectible levels (less than one milligauss, the
unit used to measure magnetic fields) to quite strong levels (up to 100
milligauss and more).
Power companies and public-health agencies would have
you believe that these artificially generated EMFs have practically no
effect on human health. I was surprised when a communications officer
at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health told me flatly
that "there are no known health effects from appliance EMFs"
and then refused to let me talk to an FDA doctor to confirm or deny this
statement. But despite this hard-line stance, evidence is mounting that,
in fact, EMFs do affect health -- and not in a good way.
"There is some evidence to suggest that magnetic-field
exposure reduces melatonin levels," says Dr. W. Gregory Lotz, chief
of non-ionizing radiation for the http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). "It's
an open question for now which needs more study, but at least some animal
studies have shown melatonin changes."
EMF-related hormonal changes in the amount of melatonin
your body produces may not, on the surface, seem like a big deal when
compared to something as scary as a brain tumor. But melatonin has a far
larger effect on your health than you may realize. The hormone, which
is secreted by the pineal gland in the center of the brain, controls your
sleeping and waking cycle. But melatonin also shores up your immune system,
lowers cholesterol and blood pressure and, most important of all, is a
potent antioxidant that plays a part in preventing cancer, Alzheimer's
disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and heart disease. Make no mistake:
Anything that messes with melatonin messes with you in a big way.
"The effects of EMFs on melatonin have been known
for at least 10 years, as has the evidence linking EMFs to cancers, Alzheimer's
and childhood leukemia," says Libby Kelley, executive director of
Council on Wireless Technology Impacts (CWTI), a San Francisco-based nonprofit
Even the shadow of a threat from these potent killers
may have you wanting to throw the computer and all your other electronics
out the window and jump after them. But for most people, the dangers aren't
as severe as they may seem at first.
For one thing, most of the risks associated with EMFs
kick in when fields are at a strength of 3 milligauss and higher. According
to the DHS' Raymond Neutra, most California office workers are exposed
to daily fields at an average strength of 1.5 milligauss daily, well below
the level of exposure known to cause deleterious health effects.
But don't be putting on the party hats yet -- though
the average worker has a safe level of exposure, some workers may be getting
stronger doses of EMFs due to faulty wiring or an unusually high number
of appliances in some areas. And since the strength of EMFs increases
as you get closer to an appliance, those working eyeball-to-screen on
a computer many hours a day face some increased risk of harmful EMF exposure,
as does anyone who works very near other office appliances such as fax
machines, copy machines and printers. The more electronic equipment you
have clustered near you and the more time you spend in the high-EMF zone,
the greater the risk you face.
"Copy machines, as it turns out, have one of the
strongest magnetic fields, and they increase as you get closer,"
says the NIOSH's W. Gregory Lotz. "I've seen some measurements taken
a foot away from the machine. The lowest field measured was 2 milligauss.
The highest was 40 milligauss. Electric pencil sharpeners are even worse
-- I've seen measurements of up to 90 milligauss."
"People are practically wrapped around their equipment
at home or at the office, and while you're working on it, it's working
on you," says the CWTI's Libby Kelley. "It's one thing to pass
by your microwave in the kitchen, which produces a very strong field but
isn't typically used all day, every day. It's quite another to work 40
hours a week or more right next to a piece of equipment putting out a
So what to do about these potential risks? Well, you
could pick up a http://home.t-online.de/home/electrosmog/
gaussmeter, easily available via the Web for $50-$100. This simple instrument
definitively shows the strength of fields in a given area and may uncover
potential problems. The DHS' Neutra, for example, used to work in an office
where a gaussmeter showed that he and his colleagues were exposed to unexpectedly
strong EMFs of 9 milligauss. After the faulty lighting circuit causing
the strong fields was replaced, the EMF level dropped dramatically to
If you're not quite worried enough to shell out for
a gaussmeter or get your wiring checked by a competent electrician, there's
a simple solution -- distance. Stay at least two to three feet away from
your computer as you work, and make sure other appliances are at least
that far from your work space. Move your desk if you have to, or cluster
your appliances so that they are as far away as possible from where you
generally work or hang out in your house. Practice prudent avoidance of
EMFs and you will lower your risks.
Of course, these are just suggestions for what you
can do on a personal level, and there's a limit to how much risk you can
avoid. Moving farther away from your appliances won't do much if your
home is quite near a power line, an electricity-generating plant or a
power-company fuse box, where you are exposed to constant, ambient strong
EMFs. And, until now, the location of these facilities and lines has been
largely unregulated, with the power utilities deciding almost carte blanche
where to place facilities. And, also until now, those utilities have shown
a distinct tendency to ignore the mounting evidence of EMFs' effects on
"The EMF Program report is the strongest evidence
yet of the health risks the power companies have been trying to pretend
didn't exist," says Louis Slesin, publisher of http://www.microwavenews.com
Microwave News, the definitive journal on EMFs and health. "The utilities
have played a very sophisticated game and have managed to smother the
health risks as a nonissue -- and, to an extent, it's worked. You never
see coverage of EMFs in most media, and after the California EMF Program
closes down there will be no research on the issues going on in the United
States. The risks can be controlled, but only if the utilities stop pretending
that there are no risks and start addressing them."
"Estimated lifetime risks smaller than the ones
we've uncovered have triggered regulatory evaluation and sometimes actual
regulation of chemical agents such as airborne benzene," says the
Will the California EMF Program's report trigger increased
regulation of the power utilities, bringing about some sorely needed changes
in how power and its attendant EMF fields are allowed into our lives?
Only if the utilities -- and their regulatory agencies -- start hearing
a whole lot of protest from the public. Have you ever examined your PG&E
bill closely? Ever wonder why there's a disclaimer releasing PG&E
from responsibility over childhood leukemia on there? Take a good look
-- and then think about what you'd like PG&E, the CPUC, the Environmental
Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies to hear.
"As we bring more and more electronics into our
homes and neighborhoods, we are being exposed more and more to EMFs,"
says the CWTI's Libbey Kelley. "We're already seeing breast cancer
at younger ages, the onset of cancer at younger ages. It could be due
to EMFs, environmental toxins or a whole combination of things -- we just
don't know. Meanwhile, we have these aging electrical power systems, we're
not looking at alternative power sources, we're building power lines and
generating plants near homes. It's business as usual. Unless there's public
outrage over making the world a safer place, the dangers are just going
For more information on the California EMF Program
Report or plans for public hearings, or if you have questions about EMF
health and safety, call the California EMF Program at Oakland's branch
of the DHS at (510) 622-4300.
You may also call the http:/www.cpuc.ca.gov
CPUC at (800) 649-7570, or the CWTI at (415) 892-1963.
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