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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 17:25 GMT
Hung up on mobile phones

More than half of us have a mobile phone, but as ownership grows so does intolerance. Buckingham Palace is the latest institution to issue a ban.

Who says the Royal Family is out of touch with ordinary folk?

News that the Queen has cracked down on servants carrying mobile phones while on duty is likely to win the sympathy and respect of many a commoner.

With mobile phones now as common as motor cars, a backlash is gaining momentum as people become increasingly intolerant of how others use them.

Trigger Happy TV
You're breaking up!
There have been extreme cases of mobile phone rage, such as that of a man who was clubbed to death in a Hamburg beer garden in 1998 after his phone rang incessantly.

Mostly though, we are taking more considered steps to curb our dependence on mobile phones, by banning them from all sorts of public places.

1) TRAINS

Train companies have shown varying degrees of commitment in cracking down on the "mobile menace". Some operators, such as Virgin Trains, have designated "phone-free" carriages, in which passengers are asked not to use mobiles.

Others, such as Great North Eastern Railways, have urged mobile operators to improve the signal along its routes, so callers do not annoy fellow travellers by shouting.

Big mobile phone
Most of all, be discreet
For many, London Underground's subterranean network provides welcome respite from yapping mobile users. However, the silence could soon be shattered if plans go ahead to install a communications network that would allow mobile users to chat while standing on platforms.

Above ground, further advances have stalled. Chiltern Railways was working on a "phone-proof" carriage with windows and doors covered with a metallic microfilm that blocked radio waves. But the technology is not yet viable.

2) PUBS AND BARS

As with "no smoking" pubs, mobile-free watering holes are thin on the ground, despite overriding public interest. But Pip Steven, landlord of The Hobler inn, in Lymington, Hampshire, has no regrets about banning mobiles. He even thinks it has brought more custom.

"One day we had six businessmen sitting at a table and their phones were going off every minute," says Mr Steven, remembering what led him to issue the ban.

Forbidden City
Mobiles are clearly not forbidden in the Forbidden City
"It was just a joke. The whole pub could hear it. So there and then I announced a ban. I got out some white paint and wrote "Switch off your mobile'."

One surprise exception is London's famed media hangout the Groucho Club, where the normally chattering classes are silenced by a strict ban on mobiles.

3) LIBRARIES

Never have mobile users been so humiliated as in March this year, when South Lanarkshire council lumped mobile users in with the great unwashed. The authority banned mobile phones and smelly people from its libraries.

Not surprisingly, trilling handsets are none too welcome in the hushed reading rooms of the British Library. "It would not be a quite appropriate," remarked a spokesman for the library.

4) FILLING STATIONS

Filling up at petrol station
Engaged on other business
For safety reasons, rather than antisocial ones, mobile phones are not allowed on petrol forecourts under the conditions of the Petroleum Consultation Act 1928.

The potential danger is that if a phone was dropped, a spark could set off flammable vapours. Absent-minded individuals however, cannot not be held accountable - responsibility rests with the forecourt owner.

5) AEROPLANES

While airlines claim mobiles interfere with a plane's navigation systems, some say the ban is to force business travellers to use expensive on-board phones.

Earlier this year, the issue was examined by America's legislators in Congress. The Federal Aviation Administration admitted there was no hard proof that cell phones posed a safety risk on aircraft. But it continued to back bans as a precautionary measure.

Clearly though, the doubt means these measures could one day be repealed, although there are fears that using a mobile on a plane could disrupt the cellular network.

But perhaps long-haul travellers should be prepared for 11 hours of listening to a fellow passenger balling into their handset: "I'm on the plane".

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Business
Mobiles 'owned by 50% of UK'
24 Nov 99 | UK
Tube phone war fears
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