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Distracted, drunk drivers get police scrutiny

Checkpoints set on long weekend

ANDOVER — State Police officials said Thursday they have cited more than 3,000 drivers since June 2013 as part of a crackdown on distracted driving as they announced plans to be out in force during the Labor Day holiday weekend.

At a morning news conference at their barracks in Andover, State Police said patrols will be increased and several sobriety checkpoints put in place as part of an ongoing effort to reduce dangerous driving.

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“We will be focused aggressively on impaired driving,” said State Police Lieutenant Colonel Edward Amodeo. “Our goal is to have zero fatalities this holiday weekend.”

The enforcement efforts are part of a two-year pilot project with the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to deter distracted driving, called “Text With One Hand, Ticket In The Other.”

The intermittent campaign began in June 2013 and continued in September 2013 and June 2014. The final stage runs from mid-September to mid-October.

The project is also designed to test the effectiveness of enforcement efforts in preventing distracted driving over the long term. So far, the results have been promising, officials said.

“High-visibility enforcement does deter impaired driving and texting,” said Art Kinsman, who directs the state’s highway safety division. “People do pay attention to it. We’re making significant strides.”

During times of increased enforcement, police have stationed plainclothes spotters at intersections to look for distracted drivers. In June, the most recent phase of the campaign, police cited 1,000 motorists for distracted driving, nearly half for texting.

“This represents one of the most dangerous things you can do behind the wheel,” Amodeo said. “We’ve all seen it.”

In 2010, Massachusetts made it illegal to text while driving and for anyone under 18 years old to use a cellphone while driving. Fines are $100 for the first offense, and up to $500 for repeat violations.

Emily Stein, a road safety advocate who spoke at the conference, urged drivers to focus on the road. Stein’s father was killed in 2011 by a teenager who drifted off the road while looking at her GPS. But Stein said the problem of distracted driving is pervasive, and cuts across demographic lines.

“This isn’t only a teen problem,” said Stein, who is now an advocate for road safety. “This is an epidemic among every age.”

Mike Geraci of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 33,000 people died in car crashes in 2012, more than one-third of which were alcohol-related. That percentage has held steady for a decade, he said.

“It’s just unacceptable,” he said.

In 2012, more than 3,000 people died in crashes that were caused by distracted driving, he added. The number of people taking their eyes off the road to check their phone is only increasing, he said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.
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