What is proper cell phone etiquette?


Are you tired of people talking on their cell phones and driving dangerously on the roads? Does it anger you to see people texting as they are driving? How about texting while in the middle of a conversation with you? Have you ever been in the grocery store and been close to a stranger who seems to approach you and say, very loudly, "Hey how's it going" and then subsequently realized that they had a Bluetooth headset on and were talking to the person on the other line and not you? These are some of the reasons why it is important for us to be ever cognizant of proper cell phone etiquette.

What Is Cell Phone Etiquette?

For the benefit of everyone, we would do well to define the term "cell phone etiquette." Etiquette, according to Merriam Webster's online dictionary, is defined as:

The conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.

Now, let's apply that to cell phone usage. Cell phone etiquette can be defined as proper cell phone usage in social and business settings. It is knowing when to take calls, when to ignore calls, when to silence your ringer, when to appropriately send and receive text messages and how to appropriately use your cell phone in different settings.

Irresponsible driver- driving, talking on a cell phone AND drinking
Irresponsible driver- driving, talking on a cell phone AND drinking

Cell Phone Etiquette While Driving

It has become a common place in today's age: driving and talking on the cell phone at the same time. It is a way to break the silence, to be productive, to socialize. And yet, more and more studies show that driving and talking on the cell phone decreases speed, sometimes invokes road rage in other motorists and serves as a distraction to the operator of the vehicle. Text messaging is even more dangerous and certain states are currently passing legislation to make it illegal. So then what is proper cell phone etiquette while driving?

I would like to argue that it is not appropriate to drive and talk on the cell phone regularly. There comes a time when it is perfectly acceptable to simply ignore calls. Instead, we typically choose to "err on the side of caution" and pick up the phone thinking, "Well, it could be an emergency" or, "I had better get that." Do we really have to answer the phone? We need to honestly evaluate whether or not it is appropriate to answer phone calls while driving.

There are several reasons why we need to screen phone calls while driving. Here is a short list of questions to consider when receiving calls on the road:

  1. What social ramifications will there be, if any? If our partner/child/friend is in the car, will it be seen as rude to answer the call and ignore them? This is especially important if we're in the middle of a conversation with them. How do you like it when you're talking to someone and they say, "excuse me I need to get that!"?
  2. What is the traffic like? If there's no one on the road, it might be more acceptable to pick up the call then if we're in rush hour. Studies, such as the ones below consistently demonstrate that driving and talking on the cell phone is dangerous. We really need to evaluate if it is completely necessary to answer a call when in traffic.
  3. What other distractions are there in the car? Adding a cell phone call to the other list of distractions while driving only compounds the risk factor. If the radio is on, there are friends talking in the backseat, and you're smoking, adding a phone call becomes a serious hazard.

  4. What are the conditions outside? Is visibility diluted from lack of sunlight/fog/etc? Furthermore, it takes a few seconds to adjust our eyesight when switching from looking at the road when it's dark outside and then looking at our cell phone to see who's calling. This, too, becomes a serious hazard.
  5. Do we honestly assess whether or not the call is of vital importance? For me, I'll always pick up a call from my wife. That's just a rule of thumb. If it's a co-worker, friend, and even my boss calling, I typically don't pick up while in the car. We should consider whether or not the call is important enough to pick up based on who is calling.

Driving, smoking and texting- a dangerous mixture
Driving, smoking and texting- a dangerous mixture

Driving while texting

Driving while texting is considerably more dangerous than driving while talking on the phone. There are several states that have already outlawed driving and texting. In fact, Washington, New Jersey and the City of Phoenix have all outlawed texting while driving and many other states are following suit.

Texting takes our direct eyesight off of the road (see picture to the right). Even if the keypad is memorized, it is inevitable that our eyes will shift from the road to the cell phone screen. When we read a text, orient our fingers on the pad or type away, our eyes easily leave the road and put is into a higher level of danger. Proper cell phone etiquette means we completely avoid texting while driving.

Cell Phone Etiquette in the Workplace

Cell phones have become more common in the workplace. Many people even have two or three cell phones on them- one for personal use, one for work use and one for emergency contact from the boss. It is becoming increasingly difficult to determine when it's appropriate to answer cell phone calls while at work due to the number of cell phones and the sense of urgency our jobs typically encourage.

Typically, bosses don't like to see us taking what are seen as "personal calls" while at work. The same is true of texting. This is especially true for hourly workers. If we take personal calls or texts while "on the clock," we are usually breaking the rules set forth in the employer's handbook. It's safe to say that using the cell phone for personal reasons while at work is a social taboo and should be avoided whenever possible.

Taking work-related calls, however, is typically acceptable in the workplace. Careful consideration should be taken when determining whether or not to pick up these types of calls at work. More will be mentioned on this later, but for now suffice it to say that we should not answer calls while in the middle of talking with our boss.

Cell Phone Etiquette in Life

There are general rules for proper cell phone etiquette in public places that we, as responsible cell phone users, should follow. Two good rules of thumb for using our cell phones in public places are to 1. always keep others in mind and 2. remember our objective.

Always keep others in mind

Whether we're walking down a crowded street, shopping in the grocery store or at the airport, we need to keep others in mind when using our cell phones. Going back to the example in the first paragraph of this hub, it is pretty embarrassing when I'm shopping and I see someone approach me and ask, "Hey, how have you been?" I usually begin to answer them, only to realize that they had a headset on and were talking to someone on the phone! We should strive to be considerate of others around us.

Remember our objective

What do you go into a restaurant to do? Order food, right? Then why do we attempt to multi-task juggling a phone call and giving a food order to a waitress? Not only does it demonstrate rudeness to the waitress (and our company at the table!), but it also is forgetful of our objective. If we're going through a drive-thru we should focus on placing an order only. You wouldn't pick up a personal phone call in a conference meeting with bosses, would you? Neither should we use our cell phones when we should be eating, talking with others, on vacation, etc!

Final Cell Phone Etiquette Rules To Abide By

Here are some final rules to abide by when attempting to be a responsible cell phone user:

  1. Silence cell phones in places you wouldn't want to receive a call. Job interviews, movie theatres, weddings, church services, conference meetings, business sales pitches, classrooms, (and the list goes on) are all places that our cell phones should be silenced.
  2. Always keep others in mind. What would be better- having a phone discussion with a co-worker about a prior successful marketing scheme or talking with your daughter about her day at school? Would you rather be texting friends who are away or talking with friends who are right in front of you?
  3. Screen your calls. Be honest with yourself. Do you really have to take the call or can you simply let it go to voicemail?
  4. Strive to not use the cell phone while driving. Many studies show that cell phones, whether used for texting or calling, are a major distraction to drivers and lead to more accidents. Rather than trying to make excuses to use the cell phone, turn it off and put on a good cd! Try listening to soothing music to de-stress yourself before making it home, learn a new language on cd or listen to a book on tape.

As we all attempt to be more accountable cell phone users, we would do well to abide by these rules. Keep in mind these rules aren't all-inclusive. What else should we do, as a culture, to be responsible cell phone users? And why do we, as Americans, feel such a deep need to use our cell phones so frequently? We would do well to think about these things.

More by this Author

What other rules should we abide by? And why do you think our culture has become so cell-phone dependent? 37 comments

funride profile image

funride 9 years ago from Portugal

Great hub. Very interesting subject! Every day we see more people using their cell phones without any "hand-free" and disrespecting all others while driving. Personally I have been in peculiar situations like having a patient during a nutricional appointment who ask me to wait so she could answer her phone :/

Unfortunatly this kind of situations happen very frequently even after we ask people to turn off their cell phones early. I supose it´s not an etiquette issue as much as it´s bad conduct.

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 9 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Good thought funride. Sounds like cell phone manners are pretty bad over in Portugal as well as here in the U.S.

Stacie Naczelnik profile image

Stacie Naczelnik 9 years ago from Seattle

Just yesterday, I was waiting to cross the street when I saw a woman on the next corner. She was standing alone, but talking loudly. She was staring off into space, and pointing towards something. In this city, I've seen people freak out and yell on corners...which is what I thought she was doing. When the light changed, I passed her and realized she had a blue tooth. I thought she was a loony!

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 9 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

haha that has happened to me way too many times to count. I just hate it when i'm the one who looks stupid when I make eye contact with a stranger, frantically try to remember where I know them from, and begin a conversation with them only to find out they're on their blue tooth! I heard a statistic, though, that 1 out of every 4 people aren't on the phone with anyone when they're talking into their cell phone/blue tooth. I believe this since I did it when working loss prevention, but I guess people out there do it for other reasons- maybe to pretend they're important, or pretend like they have lots of $ when they tell the "person" on the other line to sell stocks, etc. Silly!

Kat07 profile image

Kat07 9 years ago from Tampa

Great hub!  I have a work cell phone, and have determined now to leave it at my desk because it is way too disturbing to have it ringing while I'm with a patient, and I think it's disrespectful.  Texting while driving - the worst idea ever!!!

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 9 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

I agree with your last statement, Kat. The politicians here in Virginia are trying to pass a law that would ban texting and driving. Washington D.C. recently passed a law saying you have to use a handsfree device when talking and driving. Seems like less is more in this case.

vrajavala profile image

vrajavala 9 years ago from Port St. Lucie

yeah too much technology and impersoanlization.

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Great hub and reminders for anyone who has become a cellphone addict :D. Sometimes I even see people talking on the cell phone (not just driving) even while in church. And they even walk out of the "mass" or prayer to answer the phone. With close friends, we have this rule. Whenever we get together, we all agreed no cellphones during bonding time. It works for me.

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

I like that rule ripple. What gets me is when I'm in the bathroom and some loud, obnoxious businessman enters talking on the phone the entire time. Even when the continue to use the bathroom they stay on the phone talking with someone...that's the worst!

Rusty Green profile image

Rusty Green 8 years ago

Great Hub!

I find it especially annoying in meetings... What could be so important that cannot wait until the meeting ends? Last week we had a meetig and this "VIP" kept walking out to answer her cell phone... We could see her through the glass door, pacing back and forth... Whatever the situation, you really can't do much from where you are, so what's the point? Thanks for profling this very real and sometimes tragic practice... Especially when driving!

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Thanks Rusty- good comments. I think if we all put our heads together we could come up with some hilarious experiences of people misusing cell phones.

I've got it- maybe this could be the platform for a whole new television show!

Rusty Green profile image

Rusty Green 8 years ago

Another great idea! :)

The Indexer profile image

The Indexer 8 years ago from UK

In the UK it is illegal to use a mobile phone (if not hands free) while driving. If you cause an accident while using a phone, a jail sentence is almost inevitable. The Police have even brought charges against people for eating apples while driving. It seems that different countries have different standards in these matters.

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Wow, Indexer, thanks for the comments about UK's laws. I'm glad they crack down so "harshly" on poor driving habits. It sets a high standard for drivers.

trish1048 profile image

trish1048 8 years ago

Hi,,,good topic.

I live in NJ and it is now against the law to text.  You can talk on your cell only if it's a hands-free one.

As I approach age 60 (shhhh),,,,,I have only owned a cell phone for the past two years.  Friends/family would always say to me, why don't you join the 21st century?  I never felt the need for one.  Then, I was taking a trip to PA to my son's campground, and realized it's a good two hour ride on roads that offer nothing, no emergency phones, no gas stations, no restaurants, and poorly lit mountainous roads.  I said, ok, I guess it's time.  The last thing I want is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way to access help.

If I get a call or need to make a call, I just wait till I can pull off to the side of the road.

There are people at my job who are on their cell phone every free minute they get, every day.  What in the world is so important at 7 am that it can't wait?  Other than an emergency, or of course being away from home on a trip, are the only two legitimate reasons I can think of to use it.  And, if you FEEL THE NEED to just chat, please pull off the road.  Simple,,

Good hub!  thanks


RFox profile image

RFox 8 years ago

Brilliant! What can more can I say. ;)

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Thanks Patty and RFox for your comments.

Patty- I agree, cell phones become an addiction to lots of people. I, too, was late in buying a cell phone. I think I've only had one for 4 or 5 years...I held off for as long as I could just because I didn't want to be 'tied down' to it. These days I get frustrated when I can't get a hold of a friend or family member on the cell phone instantly! Then I remember back to what it was like without cell phones! Remember that? Remember when we had to wait for someone to get to their destination before we could get in touch with them? Wow, we've become so impatient, myself included!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Ha-Ha! I love that! One in four pretend they are talking. I do that myself. Not to look important, mind you, but to avoid someone I don't want to talk to. If I see this person coming my way, I open the phone and start pretending. The unstated message is: *See how busy I am? I can't possibly talk to you now.* Unfortunately, cell phone users have trained each other well: the cell phone conversation takes priority. And the person I don't want to speak to goes away.

Great hub!

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Yes, Sally's Trove, I've pretended to be on my cell before. But I used it when working in loss prevention (as I wrote above). I would use it on the sales floor to "blend in" with everyone else, or use it to pretend I was distracted as I was approaching a theif before apprehending them. It's worked often, too, as they look back and see that some average guy is walking out behind them but he's on his cell phone talking with his girlfriend or whatever. Looking back, though, I can't remember having used my cell phone to ignore someone. I'm sure I have, but I just can't remember doing it.

It's hard to tell if cell phones are a blessing or a curse.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

LOL! I'm sure we all have used the cell phone to ignore someone, at least once, but that's a tough one to admit. You see, I have no pride about this one.

Blessings: Keeping together on the road when you are "caravanning"; emergency contact when something goes wrong; assuring your parents that you are fine when you are on your first solo road trip; phone access when your home phone is out; getting rid of your land-line phone and using the cell phone exclusively (a good cell phone plan will cut the cost of keeping both a land-line and a cell phone in half); calling your significant other after they've left for the grocery with "just one more item, dear" (prevents another trip to the store).

Curses: Your great hub and the comments covered those pretty well. And here's a thought for someone else to pick up on...what's the latest news on health risks related to cell phone transmissions? (I'll make a request out of this one.)

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Sally, that's a great question - what health implications are there for using a cell phone?

In The Doghouse profile image

In The Doghouse 8 years ago from California

Great suggestions to follow. I think my biggest pet peeve is watching the people in church texting each other across the room while the speakers are talking! Yikes, leave the phone in the car for an hour, my goodness! Thank for the HUB.

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Anytime, Doghouse. Glad you got a kick out of it.

Junkster profile image

Junkster 8 years ago from Liverpool, UK

Great information, I only wish more people would adhere to it. I still see people talking on their phone when driving, even though it's illegal in the UK

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Junkster, it is completely illegal in the UK? You mean you can't even use a handsfree device? If that's the case, that's awesome! I think they should seriously consider passing that law here in the U.S.

Ponderize profile image

Ponderize 8 years ago from California

I definetely think hands-free should be illegal here in the US too - but I doubt that will happen anytime soon...great article! Yes, we seem to have similar grievances!

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Thank you ponderize for stopping by. And I agree that the law won't pass soon that requires a hands-free across the US, although each state seems to be rolling them out one at a time...

Imagine a candidate campaigning and bringing up how they'd like to pass that law! haha

Princessa profile image

Princessa 8 years ago from France

I seem to be attached to my cell phone. I cannot remember my "before cell times", how did I cope ! I think my cell was glued to me at the same time as my high heels! LOL

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Yeah it's getting harder and harder to remember the pre-cell phone days! I tried to hold out as long as I could before getting one, but now I can't imagine not having one.

Reverse 8 years ago

Good advice. Cell phones are quite handy but do we really need to in touch 24/7?

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

I agree Reverse. In fact just getting to work today there were a TON of people driving and talking on the phone. And everyone that was doing that was going S O S L O W ! I wish people would not forget about the others around them and ignore calls from John Doe in Timbucktoo!

privateye2500 profile image

privateye2500 8 years ago from Canada, USA, London

I cannot BELIEVE all the comments on this topic! ga-fa!!

With ALL that is going on in the world today - you are actually thinking a thought ABOUT cell phone etiquette???????


WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Of course we are! Are you saying you don't think there's a place for that

Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 8 years ago from Massachusetts

I don't think it's a bad idea to bring up etiquette once in a while. Goodness knows the world seems often to have forgotten its use.

There certainly are lots of awful things going on in the world today, but if we all vow to talk about nothing but those awful things (many of which are well beyond our control and ability to solve) we'll all be uselessly wallowing in "awful-ness" from one end of the day to the next.

Cell phones are a relatively recent phenomenon, and I think people need a little more time to refine cell phone behavior/etiquette. Texting while driving, though - that one is potentially deadly, and nobody has a right to risk someone else's safety with such stupid behavior. There's no excuse for texting while driving.

WeddingConsultant profile image

WeddingConsultant 8 years ago from DC Metro Area Author

Lisa, thanks for stopping by and reading.

re: your second paragraph- I agree that there should be much less time spent focusing on negative things and much more spent on positive things (unlike news channels)! That's why I've been focusing most of my energy writing the wedding hubs :)

creditreport 7 years ago

Very relevant Hub... the use of cell phones is way out of hand and is getting worse with all the new apps available... I am guilty of texting while driving (shhhh) but am working hard at breaking that habit after seeing the movie "7 pounds" and after a couple close calls... it only takes a second of distraction and look out....

They are an amazing tool if used properly and consideratley...

Bobbie  6 years ago

I just wanted to point out that hands free cell phones should be illegal too. They are just as dangerous. Many people think that using your hands while on a cell phone is what distracts you. It is not the act of using your hands that takes away from your driving. Many brain studies have shown that it is actually because your attention is divided. Almost nobody can focus 100% on driving while talking on cell. Texting requires even more of your attention so it is worse. No attention to driving + using hands to text= worse than driving drunk!

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