Car phones may affect brakes and steering

Safety on the road: Working group to study fears over electronic interference as poll shows drivers overrate their abilities
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The Independent Online
JOHN McKIE

Concern is growing over the safety of car phones following a report that their signals can interfere with electronic braking and steering.

The Government has launched a working group to investigate fears that electromagnetic interference from the phones could cause serious accidents.

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper yesterday cited the case of a Jaguar travelling at speed on the motorway which suddenly stopped when the driver's phone activated the brakes.

Mobile phones have already been banned this year from many hospitals after fears that their signals could hamper medical equipment. And as early as January 1993, Shell sent out 2,500 leaflets to customers, warning that using a mobile phone in a garage forecourt could create sparks, leading to an explosion.

The Department of Transport, in conjunction with the DTI, has introduced the working group ahead of an EU directive on monitoring the safety of electromagnetic levels produced by car phones.

A Department of Transport spokesman said yesterday: "Although we have no evidence to suggest accidents have occurred as a result of mobile phones interfering with vehicle electronic systems, we are aware of concerns being raised about possible levels of electromagnetic interference produced by such devices.

"A forthcoming EC directive will demand that new types of vehicle and vehicle accessory have a minimum level of resistance to electromagnetic interference and don't themselves produce excessive interference."

The department yesterday emphasised that it would ensure the directive was followed, especially given the mounting concerns over car phones. With the continued sophistication of car manufacturing and electronic brakes becoming more widespread, the problem is likely to worsen.

In February this year, the Royal Hospital in Aberdeen and Moray Health Services in Inverness banned mobile phones because it was thought that their signals could interfere with medical equipment. In August the Department of Health advised a ban on mobile phones from operating theatres and intensive care units for the same reason.

A Department of Health spokesman said yesterday: "This is not a new problem. We have been reviewing this for some time and if you go into most hospitals now, on the front of the ward, it politely asks visitors to refrain from using mobile phones."

Car manufacturers and mobile phone makers have for the past few years assigned particular departments to ensure against the problem but cheaper models of both cars and car phones flooding the market create the problem.

Nigel Davies, the RAC's head of technological development, said yesterday: "It's a very low-risk situation. But problems arise when third parties bring new products on to the cheaper end of the market which aren't particularly well engineered.

"There was this problem with car alarms about 18 months ago, but then the quality of alarms started to be monitored more closely. This will need to happen with car phones."

None of the major mobile phone companies was available for comment yesterday.

British drivers believe they are better than they really are

Motorists have double standards and suffer from self delusion - nearly all of them think they drive well and blame others for having bad habits, according to a survey today.

Drivers said the two most annoying habits on the road were bad signalling and inconsiderate or aggressive driving - yet only one in 20 admitted having these bad habits themselves, according to a MORI survey for the British School of Motoring.

More than a quarter of drivers claimed to have no bad driving habits themselves.

"Double standards, self delusion and taking too many risks are causing countless accidents," BSM's Richard Glover said. "The vast majority of motorists over-rate their own driving ability," he said as the BSM launched a new video entitled Exploding Driving, which sets out to dispel some of the myths which people believe make a good driver, while introducing a list of good driving habits.

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