Do you turn your phone off?

May 24, 2012, 9:29 AM GMT+0

48% Britons say using mobile phone on a plane 'not dangerous'; 47% say same about hospitals

Almost half of Britons believe that using mobile phones on planes is not dangerous, while a similar number say the same about using a mobile in hospitals, our poll shows, despite both places typically asking passengers and visitors to turn off their handsets.

Despite people being unconvinced of phones' 'danger', however, the majority of the public says that they do what they’re told and turn off their mobile phone when on a plane or in a hospital.

  • 48% of Britons say that using a mobile phone on a plane 'is not seriously dangerous' but 'may interfere with the plane', compared to 28% who reckon that using a phone on a plane is 'seriously dangerous' (15% say it doesn't pose any risks at all)
  • Similarly, 47% believe that using a phone in a hospital 'is not seriously dangerous' but could 'interfere with hospital equipment', compared to 19% who say that it could be 'potentially seriously dangerous' (27% say it doesn't pose any risks)

Following the rules

Despite substantial numbers appearing unconvinced that turning off their phones is entirely necessary for safety reasons, our poll showed that most people follow the 'turn off' rules anyway.

  • 73% of Britons turn off their mobile phone when travelling on planes (while 6% do not, and 19% either don't own a phone or haven't taken it on a plane)
  • 53% turn off their phone while visiting hospital wards (while 34% don't, and 9% say they either don't own a mobile phone, or if they do, they simply haven't taken it into a hospital ward)

The results come amid on-going debate over how much threat mobile phones pose to safety on planes and in hospitals, as experts recently labelled evidence claiming to show that mobile phones interfere with the correct functioning of important instruments as 'inconclusive'.

Hospitals and planes: reserving the right to ask

Despite admitting that there is no definitive evidence that mobiles can cause interference with medical equipment, NHS hospitals still claim the right to ban the use of mobile phones in various hospital wards for this reason, as well as a means to prevent loud ring tones being confused with alarms on medical equipment, and to maintain 'peace, quiet and dignity' of the patients in the wards.

When it comes to aeroplanes, industry consensus states that mobile phones are a potential hazard to aircraft ‒ and it is a matter of routine take-off preparations that passengers are asked to turn their phones off for the duration of a flight.

Mobile myth-busting?

American Discovery Channel programme ‘MythBusters’ explored the notion of phones being hazardous to plane navigation, and found it to be false, explaining that planes these days are built airtight against foreign signals and operate on entirely different frequencies than phones.

The programme claims, however, that it is often communication experts who enforce the ban, rather than aviation associations themselves.

“When you make a call at 10,000 feet, the signal bounces off multiple available cell towers, rather than one at a time. That means too many phone-happy jetsetters might clog up the networks on the ground,” the programme's website states.

It has been suggested, however, that while newer aircraft have better protection from frequency interference, older planes may be more susceptible to interference due to a lack of screening against mobile phone signals, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said that despite uncertainty, the chance that phone signals may interfere with the electronic systems that pilots rely on is still too great a risk.

See the survey details and full results