Which Is The Greater Cell Phone Risk, Developing A Brain Tumor Or Crashing The Car?

cell phone crash photo
Image credit:EnglishRussia

For decades I've seen periodic reports linking cell phone use and brain cancer for US citizens. The causal link was always weak; but, I kept hearing about ongoing Nordic studies which left a sense of unease. According to a just-published article in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, No Change in Brain Tumor Incidence During a Time When Cell Phone Usage Increased, based on a huge body of data from several national cancer registries in northern Europe, there's no significant association to be found between cell phone use and brain tumor incidence...yet (see caveat below). On the other hand, driving while using the cell phone is clearly dangerous. Looking for some data to back that up? Read on.From the introductory statement on the JNCI website, comes this summary of the Nordic study:

Isabelle Deltour, Ph.D., of the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Danish Cancer Society, in Copenhagen, and colleagues analyzed annual incidence rates of glioma and meningioma among adults aged 20-79 years from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Researchers identified 60,000 patients who were diagnosed with these types of brain tumors between 1974 and 2003.

The researchers found that incidence rates over this 30 year-period were stable, decreased, or continued a gradual increase that started before the introduction of cell phones. They also found no change in incidence trends in brain tumors from 1998 to 2003. The authors say this finding may be due to one of several reasons: that the induction period relating cell phone use to brain tumors exceeds 5-10 years; that the increased risk in this population is too small to be observed; that the increased risk is restricted to subgroups of brain tumors or cell phone users; or that there is no increased risk.

Note the several possible explanations, and especially the 5 to 10 year induction period caveat. You can read the full research report by downloading it here (pdf).

Risk of cell phone use while driving is significant.
Speech Technology Magazine reminds us that, back in 2002, the

Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) estimated that the use of cell phones by [US] drivers may result in approximately 2,600 deaths, 330,000 moderate to critical injuries, 240,000 minor injuries, and 1.5 million instances of property damage in America per year.
The incidence rate linking cell phone use and auto crashes, from the 2002 report is as follows:
...risk of death to a driver using a cell phone, the so-called voluntary risk, is approximately 13 per million drivers, though it could range between 4 and 42 per million, per year.
Think it's gotten any less risky since 2002? I don't.

Will worker productivity fall if cell phone use while driving is banned.
No. Not based on a National Safety Council survey of 2,000 respondents representing 469 US corporations.(pdf file)

A survey of National Safety Council members revealed that 99 percent of companies with policies prohibiting the use of cell phones and messaging devices while driving have experienced no decrease in productivity - and some have seen an increase in productivity - after the policies took effect. Productivity concerns were the top reason given by respondents who have not established a cell phone policy.
What's the environmental dimension? I simply wanted to lay a foundation, through this example, for comparing other more "environmental" types of risk, such as lung disease versus climate catastrophe, as contributed to by coal burning.

Stay blogged. It's coming.

More posts on cell phone risk.
The Environmental Costs (and Benefits) of Our Cell Phones
EMF Output Of Wireless Handhelds: Measuring The Data Love