Program to test whether tickets, ads can stop drivers from using their cell phones

Hartford - A federally funded pilot program that launched Thursday will test whether increased law enforcement efforts combined with effective public advertising can get drivers to stop using their cell phones while driving.

Results from the year-long Hartford study and its sister campaign in Syracuse, N.Y., will be used to model future anti-distraction campaigns in other cities and states. The campaign is called, "Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other."

The twin pilot programs in Hartford and Syracuse, modeled after previous campaigns to curb drunken driving and increase seat belt use among drivers, are the first federally-funded efforts in the country to strategically reduce distracted driving through increased enforcement and public advertising.

In Connecticut, it is a primary offense for drivers caught texting or talking on hand-held cell phones. Public service advertisements began last week to alert area drivers of the upcoming enforcement crackdown, and ticketing for violations and high visibility enforcement will begin in Hartford from April 10 to 16.

Subsequent waves of enforcement and public service advertising will occur July 24 to 30, Oct. 2 to 8 and Feb. 26 to March 4, 2011.

The programs will be supported by a paid advertising campaign that focuses on men and women between the ages of 18 and 49. Ads will air April 1-16. The purpose of the new ad is to raise awareness and remind drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation was awarded a $200,000 grant, matched by $100,000 from the state, to conduct a high-visibility enforcement campaign, education and outreach to help reduce distracted driving behaviors.

Researchers will study changes in attitudes and behavior from beginning to end and the results will serve as a model for employing high visibility enforcement, education and outreach to reduce distracted driving behaviors in other cities and states across the country.

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2008 alone, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than a half-million people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver nationwide.

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