There are more than 270 million cell-phone users in the US—and researchers are now beginning to identify some of the associated risks.

While studies have shown that there appears to be no increase in the risk for brain cancer among cell-phone users, these devices may not be safe in all circumstances.

Driving while talking on a cell phone is dangerous—even if you're using a "hands-free" model. A new study indicates that motorists who talk on any type of cell phone show the same kind and degree of impairment—such as slowed reaction times—as drunken drivers.

People engaged in cell-phone conversations experience "inattention blindness"—even though they're looking at the road and traffic, their ability to process information drops by as much as 50%, explains Frank Drews, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and coauthor of the study.

Some people argue that other distractions, such as putting on makeup or talking to a passenger, are equally risky, but Drews doesn't buy it. "I've never seen a driver putting on makeup in the car-but at least every fourth or fifth driver is on a cell phone."

Meanwhile, in London, a l5-year-old girl suffered severe injuries after being struck by lightning while talking on her cell phone. People struck by lightning are often not critically injured, but holding a cell phone to the ear during a storm can provide a conduit that allows electricity—more than 100 million volts, in some cases—to flow into the body.

These recent developments show that it pays to think before you pick up a cell phone.

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