Local, state and federal officials gathered at the State Police barracks on Route 125 in Andover last week to announce the start of a grant-funded pilot program to enforce the state’s Safe Driving Law, which prohibits texting and driving, among other unsafe practices.
The specialized enforcement will take place in two- to four-week intervals over the next two years. The first installment will occur through June 29 on state roadways in the 12 communities covered by Troop A, including Andover.
State Police Lt. Col. Edward Amodeo said the $275,000 grant from NHTSA will help train and deploy 190 troopers to specifically look for distracted drivers, especially those texting and driving.
“We will have saturation patrols looking, observing and watching,” Amodeo said. “We have a couple of strategies we will be developing going forward.”
As the program unfolds, he said, it may be refined as troopers determine what works best. Their findings will be passed along to police departments in the other 41 states across the country that have texting-and-driving laws.
Another $468,000 is in the budget for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the program.
Meanwhile, the state Legislature is getting back into the act. A Transportation Committee hearing is scheduled for June 26 to review a bill requiring the use of hands-free mobile devices while driving.
Amodeo said the problem is bad and getting worse.
“We see it every day,” he said. “People with their heads down and texting. It’s problematic and very dangerous.”
He said 24 percent of all crashes in the U.S. are related to hand-held devices. In Massachusetts from 2010 to 2012, there were 128 car accidents with citations issued for texting while driving.
“Billions of text messages are sent every day and too many are sent by the operators of motor vehicles,” said Michael Geraci, administrator of Region 1 of the NHTSA.