NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- Police departments across New Jersey have announced a crackdown on distracted driving during April as part of the state's enforcement campaign called "UDrive. UText. UPay."
Beginning April 1 and running through April 21, the high visibility law enforcement initiative will target motorists who engage in dangerous distracted driving behaviors such as talking on handheld cell phones and sending text messages while driving.
Eric Heitmann, director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, points out that New Jersey is one of only four states nationally to qualify for and receive dedicated federal grant funding to combat distracted driving.
"This is clearly one of the most critical traffic safety issues that we face today," Heitmann said. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2016 alone, 3,450 people were killed in distracted driving crashes and an estimated 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver."
The other states are Maine, Connecticut and Oregon.
Driver inattention was listed as a contributing circumstance in 53 percent of New Jersey's crashes in 2016, and driver inattention was listed as a contributing factor in crashes at a rate nine times higher than that of the next highest contributing factor (speed).
"Those who talk or text behind the wheel are a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. "Public safety demands that we crack down on these individuals as aggressively as we do those who drive without seatbelts or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol."
The campaign is being carried out during the month of April, which the National Safety Council has designated as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
The New Jersey campaign is modeled after similar successful high visibility enforcement programs such as "Click It or Ticket" and "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over."
It is illegal in New Jersey to operate a motor vehicle while using a handheld electronic device. Violating this law subjects motorists to fines of $200 to $400 for a first offense and could increase to $800 with the addition of three insurance points in subsequent violations.