Is It Safe to Use a Cell Phone During a Thunderstorm?

Bilingual sign reading "Cellphones prohibited during thunderstorms"

Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0

It is odd where they put their safety priorities in China. I noted in an earlier post that they let people ride four to a scooter but then mandate side guards on trucks; they also let people choke on pollution but are preoccupied with the dangers of cellphones during thunderstorms.

cellphone warning sign in Chinese and English
Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0

I asked my tour guide at the Temple of Heaven and she said that people have died doing this, that it is a serious problem; a quick google search found that yes, a man was killed in Kuala Lumpur in 1999, struck by lightning while talking on his cell phone. However, the consensus seems to be that there is no danger because there is no grounded connection. The Chicago Tribune weighs in:

Using a corded telephone during a thunderstorm is discouraged because the phone is physically connected by wires to the outside. A cellphone, however, has no such physical connection and the electric current from a nearby lightning strike cannot reach it. It is perfectly safe to use a cellphone during a thunderstorm.
Sign reading "Cellphones prohibited during thunderstorms" in Chinese characters and English text
Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0

It's terrific that the Chinese authorities are so worried about our welfare in thunderstorms but I suspect there are bigger fish to fry.