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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.

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"We’re now a mobile society," says Chicago attorney Howard Ankin. "Everyone wants to use their phone while driving and not be stuck and unproductive in traffic. Most people think the people who get in accidents while using a cellphone is the other guy, not them," he says.

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“In congested cities across California, where the commuters can spend hours in traffic, using a cellphone to send a text or email can seem harmless,” says Reza Torkzadeh, a personal injury lawyer and author of “Accidents Happen But Who’s Going to Pay the Bills?” She says studies have shown 8 out of 10 drivers support some type of restriction or ban on mobile device usage while driving.

Since California's hands-free law took effect two years ago, banning cellphone use behind the wheel, California has issued an estimated 500,000 tickets to drivers ignoring the law. 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.

But many in law enforcement want stronger penalties and deterrents and more tools for enforcement.

“I would appreciate stricter laws," says Colonel Brendan Doherty of the Rhode Island State Police. "We need search warrant capability so when we are researching an accident, we can find out if one or more of the drivers was texting at the time of the accident," he says. Rhode Island prohibits texting but not cellphone use, which makes enforcement problematic, he says.

One bright spot is that there are a host of technological advances making their way into the marketplace, says experts.

Coinciding with the holiday weekend, Iconosys Inc., a mobile app maker, has announced several applications that can send automatic responses to text senders.

“It has become commonplace among youth that when they can’t immediately text back to a received message, they feel like the sender will feel ignored,” says Iconosys president Wayne Irving II. His company's applications – some free – are capable of sending messages that say, “I’m driving a car now. When I can pull over, I will call you back.” Some are even cued automatically by satellite technology that shows when the cellphone is in motion.

“We are trying to develop these for youth who want to be cool but also don’t want parents and bosses being able to snoop too much over their shoulders,
says Mr. Irving.