New Milford police are among 50 departments statewide on enhanced patrol to spot distracted drivers.

Local police and the state Department of Transportation's highway safety office are partnering to crack down on motorists who text, talk or are otherwise distracted from driving by using a hand-held phone.

The campaign, called "U Drive. U Text. U Pay," is sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. April is National Distracted Driving Awareness month.

New Milford received a $19,875 federal grant for the enforcement. Also taking part in the program in this area are state police.

New Milford police are adding patrols aimed at catching distracted drivers, especially those on phones. Text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, making it the most egregious distraction, according to Sgt. James Dzamko.

"Driving and texting is illegal and irresponsible," Dzamko said. "If you drive and text, you will pay. Texting while driving requires motorists to take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and minds off the task of driving."

Under the state's cellphone and texting law, violations involve heavy fines, ranging from $150 for the first offense, $300 for a second offense and $500 for each subsequent violation.

The New Milford program will run through April 30 and again from Aug. 3 to Aug. 16.

Officers will use a combination of traditional and innovative strategies to crack down on motorists who text and drive.

Strategies include roving police patrols, spotters strategically located on local and state roads, and stationary police cars prominently placed around the communities, Dzamko said.

A total of 3,154 people were killed nationally in 2013 and an estimated additional 424,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the highway safety office.

New Milford police Chief Shawn Boyne told the Town Council March 23 the department used 853 hours and issued more than 800 tickets for various distracted driving offenses during last year's campaign.

Boyne noted the number of accidents attributed to distracted driving is down in New Milford.

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352