In an effort to curb cellphone use by drivers, federal regulators said on Thursday that they planned a pilot project to test "high visibility" crackdown efforts in two cities, Hartford and Syracuse.
The tests entail ramping up enforcement on state bans of hands-free phones by motorists, advertising the campaigns and undertaking studies to see if the efforts curb behavior and attitudes. The Transportation Department says it wants to send the message: "Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other."
The federal government said it would spend $200,000 in each city, while each state would contribute $100,000. Connecticut's pilot program will take place April 10-16 and New York's will take place April 8-17.
The federal agency said the efforts drew on programs aimed at discouraging drunk driving and encouraging use of seat belts.[ Click-it-or-ticket program: ]
"It's time for drivers to act responsibly, put their hands on the wheel and focus on the road," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who last year called distracted driving an "epidemic."
Six states ban hand-held use of cellphones; 21 ban texting. Still, use of devices by drivers continues to rise, according to various polls. Some police officers say enforcement is difficult because, for instance, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a motorist texting or dialing a phone, an act not prohibited under any law.
Studies have shown that drivers talking on a cellphone face four times the crash risk of someone not talking on a cellphone, and that the risks at least double when a motorist is texting.
Mr. LaHood and safety advocates have said that curbing the behavior requires enforcement and education, which they say has been clearly evident in past efforts with seat belts and drunk driving. Ultimately, Mr. LaHood said, the challenge is steep in trying to change a culture in which many motorists feel it is safe or acceptable to use a mobile device.