NORTH READING — Chief Michael P. Murphy reports that the North Reading Police Department will join 191 Massachusetts law enforcement agencies in the national U Drive, U Text, U Pay, mobilization to crack down on motorists who text while driving. The campaign, which combines traditional and innovative enforcement strategies, is funded by a federal grant administered through the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security’s Highway Safety Division (EOPSS/HSD) from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The mobilization is underway and continues through May 1.

“There are so many things that distract people while they’re driving. Some of those distractions are out of their control like other bad drivers, unexpected obstacles in the roadway or another person texting and driving just to name a few. You never know what the person in front of you or behind you is going to do. But if you text and drive, that’s in your control. That’s a choice you make.” said North Reading Police Chief Michael Murphy.

Texting while driving was outlawed in Massachusetts effective Sept. 30, 2010. Adult drivers who write, send or read electronic messages or browse the Internet while driving face a $100 fine for a first offense – even if the vehicle is stopped in traffic. Juvenile operators are entirely prohibited from using mobile phones and other electronic devices while driving, including to make phone calls. The fine for a juvenile first offense is $100 and includes a 60 day license suspension and required completion of a driver attitudinal course.

These costly violations underscore the danger inherent in the use of electronic devices while driving. Nationally in 2013, there were 3,154 people killed and an estimated 424,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

“Texting and driving requires motorists to take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and mind off the task of driving. It creates the proverbial ‘perfect storm’ for a crash and no one has the right to put another person’s life at risk like that,” said Chief Murphy.

According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute’s 2012 “Teen Driver Distraction Study,” 25 percent of teens respond to a text message at least once every time they drive. Twenty percent of teens and 10 precent of parents admit that they have multi–message text conversations while driving.

According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s 2009 “Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operation” study, five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded. That same study has revealed that any activity that diverts a drivers’ eyes from the road for two seconds or more increases crash risk by a factor of three, similar to driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08.

“Distracted driving is the cause of thousands of preventable injuries each year and has cost many families the life of a loved one. Drivers can start solving the problem by pledging to change their own behavior and drive distraction-free from now on and then share that pledge with their friends and family,” said Chief Murphy.