SYRACUSE, NY – Two Department of Transportation pilot projects showed that increased enforcement efforts by law enforcement, plus public education programs, reduced incidents of distracted driving, according to a news release from NHTSA.

NHTSA said each program was supported by $200,000 in federal funds and $100,000 from the state of New York. The pilot programs used "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other" as the media campaign theme and were structured similarly to the highly-successful national seat belt campaign, "Click It or Ticket."

The pilot programs studied four periods of increase law enforcement efforts during the past year. Syracuse police issued 9,587 citations for driver violations involving talking or texting on cell phones while operating a vehicle. During the Hartford, Conn., program, police issued 9,658 tickets.

Before and after each enforcement period, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it observed cell phone use and conducted public awareness surveys at driver licensing offices in the two cities. In Syracuse, handheld cell phone use and texting behind the wheel declined by one-third. In Hartford, handheld phone use dropped by 57 percent and texting behind the wheel dropped by nearly three-quarters.

NHTSA said it plans to test this program, which includes tough laws, strong enforcement, and ongoing public awareness, at the state-wide level next.

Related to the issue of enforcement, a recent study by AAA of California found that rates of texting while driving tripled between 2009 and 2011, since a ban went into effect.

The news release from AAA of Southern California said that before the state’s texting ban went into effect in January, 2009, 1.4 percent of drivers on average were observed texting or manipulating an electronic device (such as a smart phone) at any point in time behind the wheel. Using the same survey methodology at seven locations in southern California, that percentage is now 4.1 at any given time.

The wireless industry trade association, CTIA found that during the 12-month period between December, 2010, and December 2009, the number of text messages sent increased to 6 billion per day, up from 4.9 billion a day the previous year.

AAA’s findings agreed with NHTSA's that enforcement and public awareness are key to reducing the practice of texting while driving.

“We need greater public awareness of the dangers of texting and using electronic devices behind the wheel,” said the Auto Club’s Government Affairs Manager Steve Finnegan. “The state also needs stronger penalties and targeted enforcement to reduce texting while driving – which is really the perfect storm of distraction that takes drivers’ eyes, hands, and brains off the task of driving. Although the growth of in-car texting and related electronic device use mirrors the explosive growth of wireless use overall in society, it’s very troubling that this growth appears to have overcome the early effectiveness of the current law.”