Around 93% of adults in the UK own or use a mobile phone, and they're an essential part of many people's lives. There have been concerns that the radio waves they produce and receive might be unsafe.

These radio waves are a type of low-energy, non-ionising electromagnetic radiation – a class of radiation that also includes visible light, ultraviolet (UV), and infrared radiation.

Concerns have been expressed that prolonged or frequent exposure to radio waves might increase a person's risk of health problems such as cancer.

However, most current research suggests it's unlikely that radio waves from mobile phones or base stations increase the risk of any health problems.

The researchers acknowledge this evidence is based on use of mobile phones over the last 20 years, and there's still some uncertainty about possible health effects from using a phone for longer than this.

Read more about the risks of mobile phone use.

What research has been done into their safety?

Since the 1990s, there's been a huge amount of scientific research into the potential health effects of mobile phone use.

Large reviews of published research have concluded that overall the evidence doesn't suggest that radio waves from mobile phones cause health problems.

This includes research by:

However, further research is still needed to check that there are no health impacts from long-term exposures (using a mobile phone for more than 20 years).

Read more about this research in frequently asked questions about mobile phone safety.

Mobile phones and driving

Using a mobile phone while driving is considered the biggest health risk posed by mobile phones. It can increase your changes of having an accident, and it's illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving or riding a motorbike.

The Department for Transport recommends the following guidelines for the safe use of mobile phones in cars:

  • keep your mobile phone switched off when you're driving – you can use voicemail, a message service or call diversion to pick up your messages at the end of your journey
  • if you need to use your mobile phone, stop in a safe place – don't stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway unless it's an emergency
  • avoid using a hands-free device – these can be just as distracting as handheld phones

Read more about using mobile phones when driving and the law on the GOV.UK website.

Reducing exposure to mobile phones

If you have concerns, there are various measures you can take to lower your exposure to radio waves produced by mobile phones. For example:

  • Only make short calls on your mobile phone, and avoid using it more than necessary.
  • Children should only use mobile phones for essential purposes and keep all calls short.
  • Use a hands-free kit to keep your phone as far away from your head as possible, and keep your mobile phone away from your body when it's in standby mode.
  • Only use your phone when the reception is strong – this is often indicated by bars of energy on your phone screen. Weak reception causes the phone to use more energy to communicate with the base station.
  • Consider the specific absorption rate (SAR) of a mobile phone before you buy it – this is how much radio wave energy is absorbed into the body. Mobile phone retailers have a responsibility to make this information available to you before you buy.

Page last reviewed: 01/04/2016

Next review due: 01/04/2018