By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — The State Police, which conducted a pilot program in June in the Merrimack Valley aimed at enforcement of the state's texting while driving law, has launched the second phase of the operation after citing hundreds of drivers in June.
The State Police pulled over and cited 440 people for violating the law in late spring. Also that month, State Police working out of Troop A-1 in Andover wrote 509 citations for impeded operation. Four junior operators were cited for talking on a cellphone while driving.
Under the current state law, it is OK for adults to talk on the phone but not text while driving. It is illegal for teenagers to talk or text while driving.
The pilot program was conducted by state troopers working out of the Andover barracks and covered 12 communities in the region, including Andover, Dracut, Dunstable, Lawrence, Lowell, Methuen, North Andover, North Reading, Reading, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Wilmington.
The operation was paid for with a $275,000 federal grant from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The grant was used to help train and deploy 190 troopers to specifically look for distracted drivers, especially those texting and driving.
The second phase of the crackdown on texting and driving started Sept. 16 and will run through Oct. 11.
According to State Police, "driving and text messaging both demand simultaneous visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver; it is very dangerous to do both at the same time."
Enforcement includes roving police patrols, spotters and stationary police vehicles prominently placed at strategic locations.
“These tactics can curtail distracted driving, including cell phone use involving texting," said Col. Timothy Alben, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. "Choosing to text and drive is a selfish choice that often results in tragedy. We want people to know we are serious about stopping this dangerous behavior, and will show zero tolerance for motorists who break the law."
Getting a ticket under the Massachusetts crackdown can be costly. Penalties start at $100 for the first offense and can rise to $500 for repeat violations.
Distracted driving practices, especially those involving cell phones and other electronic devices, have become epidemic on U.S. roads as the devices become ever more popular.
To date, Massachusetts, 40 other states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
“Distracted driving continues to endanger drivers, passengers and pedestrians and is a plague on highway safety that is not easily defeated,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Massachusetts is leading the way in identifying good practices for law enforcement to detect, identify, and cite drivers who continue to text while driving, ultimately improving the safety for all drivers on our nation’s roads.”
For more information on texting while driving and its prevention, including the demonstration grant to Massachusetts, visit www.distraction.gov .