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Texting-while-driving crackdown coming July 4 weekend

Texting while driving? Watch out! Cops will be out in force July 4 to nab distracted drivers.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / July 1, 2010

Nationwide, 28 states and the district of Columbia ban text messaging behind the wheel, and nine states prohibit texting by novice drivers. Six new texting-while-driving bans will go into effect in July.

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Several states are using the busy Independence Day weekend to spotlight a dangerous increase in cellphone use while driving.

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Cellphone use – especially texting – has become so ingrained in society that far too many people ignore laws banning the practice. A 2008 study by the mobile industry’s trade association CTIA found that among teens ages 13 to 19, 57 percent view their cellphones as key to their social life, and most view texting as a vital feature.

Yet to mix this activity with driving is statistically extremely dangerous.

The California Highway Patrol released a report Wednesday showing that talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel is the leading factor contributing to crashes blamed on inattentive drivers. Furthermore, the US Department of Transportation reports that distracted driving played a role in nearly 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries in 2009.

The key to reversing the trend is education about the danger, say several experts. Physiologically, there are three different kinds of distraction, say experts: visual (taking eyes off the road), manual (taking one or more hands off the wheel), and cognitive (mental attention.) Texting involves all three, which a July 2009 study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows increases the risk of a crash 23.2 times higher than non-distracted driving – higher than driving while intoxicated.

“That is a recipe for danger,” says Bob Petrancosta, the VP of Safety for Con-way Freight, a subsidiary of Con-way Inc. “The message needs to be communicated across society … and if [it] were really understood, maybe we would have a chance to stem the problem.” [Editor's note: The original version has been edited to clarify Mr. Petrancosta's affiliation.]

But cellphone use – particularly texting – has become attitudinal and built-in, studies show.

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project reports that text messaging has become the preferred method of communication for American teenagers, with one in three teens sending more than 100 texts a day. The same study found that 26 percent of US teens admit to texting while driving. And the National Safety Council announced in January of this year that nearly 30 percent of all auto accidents were primarily caused by using a cellphone while driving.

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