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msnbc.com

Apparently, cell phone users are answering the call from Miss Manners. A study released Tuesday by an industry group suggests Americans are a little less likely to yak on their mobiles in some public places than they were two years ago. But laws prohibiting use of cell phones while driving have had an even bigger impact on attitudes — fewer than half of Americans think talking while in the car is acceptable today, compared to 76 percent two years ago.

CELL PHONE USERS seem to have nearly abandoned the idea of talking during a movie, the survey suggests. Only 6 percent said it was acceptable to yak while at a movie or in a theatre, down from 11 percent two years ago.

“People are starting to self police,” said Delly Tamer, president and CEO of LetsTalk, an online wireless retailer that commissioned the study. “They’re seeing that restaurants are thinking about banning them, movies are thinking about banning them, and they’re saying, ‘Let’s police ourselves.’ ”

But Carol Page, who operates CellManners.com, was skeptical of the survey results.

“Personally, I do not see an improvement in cell phone manners. I really wish I did, but I don’t,” Page said. Irate victims of cell phone rudeness send in tales of frustration to CellManners.com daily, and the pent-up animosity is still on the rise, Page said. “I think the survey shows how people respond to a survey. But how do they actually behave? I’m sure a lot of people don’t think it’s acceptable to talk in a restaurant, but do they do that? Yeah, I’m sure they do.”

In fact, the survey supports Page’s idea that the general population is still split on the propriety of mobile-phone chatting in public places. Nearly half of those polled still think it’s OK to talk while on public transportation, and more than half felt comfortable calling home from a supermarket.

And still, 28 percent don’t fret about talking at a restaurant.

“People are saying ‘Look where there’s safety involved, like driving, I want to think more about it,’ ” Tamer said. “But guess what? People are also saying ‘If I’m in a restaurant or on a bus or in a supermarket, I want to talk. Leave me alone, I want to call my wife and ask what we need while at the grocery store.’ ”

Those who talk while following nature’s call are equally undaunted: the survey indicated 39 percent say it’s OK to make a mobile call when in the bathroom, down just slightly from 47 percent two years ago.

The survey comes just in time for the new school year and its accompanying debate about cell phones in the classroom. Some districts ban the phones from schools, but many have relaxed such rules since Sept. 11, when cell phones played a key role in reconnecting parents with their children. Just last week, the state of California lifted its statewide ban on cell phones at school, following similar measures approved in Maryland, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Still, the poll suggests students are getting the message about cell phone etiquette. Only 10 percent said it was acceptable to “talk on a cell phone while on school property, including classrooms.”

“We need kids to be able to call their parents,” Tamer said. “Cell phone usage shouldn’t be banned by laws or rules. It should be banned by people and etiquette.”

The cell phone industry, which now has some 137 million paying customers in the United States, has a vested interest in keeping anti-cell phone laws off the books, and keeping cell phones in schools. According to the Yankee Group, one in three children aged 10 to 19 already have a cell phone.

So the industry has reacted to steps by some government agencies to ban cell phones by marketing a substitute message of self-restraint. Page, who also favors etiquette over laws, thinks that message is getting out, but slowly.

“I think there is increased awareness,” Page said. “People are more hesitant to use cell phones in a way that will draw attention to themselves. They don’t like getting that ‘cell glare.’ Now you can get a ‘cell glare’ simply by pulling out a cell phone.”

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