The Dept. of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it is providing $550,000 to Connecticut and Massachusetts to help those states plan and conduct high-visibility anti-texting enforcement programs.

The demonstration grants call for Connecticut and Massachusetts to develop anti-texting enforcement protocols and techniques such as using stationary patrols, spotters on overpasses on elevated roadways and roving patrols, to test their effectiveness in four successive waves of high-visibility enforcement activities over a 24-month period.

Each state will receive $275,000 to develop and train police officers on better methods for spotting drivers who are texting, and to develop media techniques that alert the public to the perils of texting and driving.

“We have come a long way in our fight against distracted driving, but there is still much work to be done,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Texting behind the wheel is especially dangerous, which is why we’re working with states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to address this important safety issue.”

Today, 39 states have laws on the books that specifically ban texting and 10 states have laws that prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Despite such laws, prior demonstration programs conducted in Hartford, CT, and Syracuse, NY, found that it is more challenging to detect a driver texting behind the wheel compared to drivers talking on a handheld device. The vast majority of tickets issued under those programs were for handheld phone use —about 5% of the citations issued across both communities were for texting violations.

“While it is relatively easier for law enforcement to determine illegal handheld cell phone use by observing the position of the phone at the driver’s ear, the dangerous practice of texting while driving is often not as obvious,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “These two new demonstration programs will help identify real-world protocols and practices to better detect if a person is texting while driving.”

The results of the demonstration projects will be documented for the benefit of other states which are facing the same challenges, NHTSA said.