OCEAN CITY – As part of the National Distracted Driving Enforcement Campaign, the Ocean City Police Department will begin cracking down on drivers caught texting or talking on hand-held cell phones, starting today.

The "UDrive, UText, UPay" campaign, which runs through April 21, seeks to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries caused by distracted drivers. The New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, which is funding the $300,000 state campaign, estimates thousands of people are killed and nearly half a million are injured in distracted driving crashes.

Texting and using a hand-held cell phone is illegal in New Jersey. Despite that fact, 72 percent of respondents to a 2013 survey conducted by the FDU PublicMind Poll for the Division of Highway Traffic Safety said they “very often” see people driving and talking on hand-held cell phones, and 40 percent of respondents said they “very often” see drivers texting.

In New Jersey, 60 police departments received $5,000 each to pay for increased patrols and checkpoints to support the campaign. Egg Harbor and Galloway townships in Atlantic County are among those also participating in the state-funded program.

The fine for violating the state’s cell phone law is $100 plus court costs and fees. On July 1, that penalty will increase to $200 to $400 for a first offense and up to $800 for subsequent offenses.

Cindy Nevitt

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.