As driver distraction continues to be a growing problem in New Jersey, authorities have launched a new effort to combat the dangerous practice.

Hundreds of local police departments across the Garden State are increasing patrols and setting up checkpoints as part of the "U Drive, U Text, U Pay" campaign.

(David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Acting NJ Attorney General John Hoffman speaks about distracted driving during a news conference in Paramus.

"With more and more drivers doing more and more things on smartphones, we know that more than any other time in New Jersey's history, drivers are inattentive behind the wheel," said acting state Attorney General John Hoffman during a news conference in Paramus.

Hoffman said driver distraction is the single biggest contributor to crashes in New Jersey over the past 10 years.

"The numbers speak to a very sad, tragic and pathetic truth," Hoffman said. "Over the past decade, driver inattention was a major contributing factor in 1.4 million crashes in New Jersey, and more than 1,600 people were killed as a result. Over the past 10 years, it's been New Jersey's decade of driver distraction."

Hoffman added that despite the known dangers, the number of incidents resulting from distracted driving has increased.

"What is perhaps most troubling about these numbers is that they are not decreasing, but that they are increasing," Hoffman said. "In 2004, driver inattention was cited in 42 percent of accidents -- but that number has been increasing, and last year it was at 53 percent."

(Credit: Office of the NJ Attorney General)

He stressed that although the overall picture of road safety is brightening, it seems there is an increasing addiction for distraction for drivers.

"We need to put an end to the epidemic of driver inattention and close the book on this distracted driving decade," he said.

During the first few weeks of the U Drive, U Text, U Pay campaign, more than 3,000 tickets were handed out

Hoffman said in July, fines for using an electronic hand-held device will double -- from $100 to $200 for a first-time offense, $200 to $400 for a second, and third-time offenders may be fined $800, with a loss of license for three months and three points on their record.

"The message to Jersey drivers is simple," Hoffman said. "Put down the smartphone and resolve to focus on one and only one thing, and that is driving."