Connecticut and Massachusetts will receive $275,000 each in grants from federal officials seeking to improve enforcement tactics against texting behind the wheel and to expand public relations efforts on the dangers of the practice.

The total $550,000 allocated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is going toward “demonstration grants,” according to an NHTSA statement, that will bolster police officers’ understanding of anti-texting enforcement techniques. A focus of the program will be applying effective protocols against texting that include using authorities as spotters on elevated roadways and stationary and roving patrols. Over two years, the program will test such methods through four phases of “high-visibility enforcement activities.”

The programs supported by the funds follow related “demonstration” programs that trained police in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y. Those programs yielded almost 20,000 tickets, but found that only five percent of total distracted driving-related citations were for texting while driving; hand-held cell phone use ranked at the top.

“It is more challenging to detect a driver texting behind the wheel compared to drivers talking on a hand-held device,” the NHSTA said in a statement.

“While it is relatively easier for law enforcement to determine illegal hand-held cell phone use by observing the position of the phone at the driver’s ear, the dangerous practice of texting while driving is often not as obvious,” NHTSA administrator David Strickland said in a statement about the latest federal grants. “These two new demonstration programs will help identify real-world protocols and practices to better detect if a person is texting while driving.”

Spurred by Enforcement Issues, Feds Want Further Research, Development

Ineffective enforcement of texting laws is due to the violation being “a much tougher catch” for cops, said Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), in an interview with Online Auto Insurance News.

“Texting is done down below the dashboard, so the officer has to actually see them texting and doing it for a period of time,” he said. “They have to be certain that it’s a text before they can pull it over.”

Currently, 39 states have laws banning texting behind the wheel.

Enforcement may be key to the value of texting bans, which have yet to show a deep impact on crash rates. A 2010 study from the Highway Data Loss Institute (HDLI) showed that legislative bans on texting went unheeded by young drivers and, in some cases even, crash rates increased in states that prohibited texting behind the wheel. HLDI officials said such increases may be due to drivers’ trying to duck enforcement by hiding their mobile phones in more discreet—yet more dangerous—positions.

“Clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal,” Adrian Lund, HLDI president, said in a statement. “This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

Drivers also dodge texting prohibitions by twisting the language of such laws, according to Cochran.

“As of yet, dialing a phone and using it as a speakerphone isn’t illegal,” he said.

Texting While Driving Caries Insurance Implications

An analysis of quotes from three major insurance companies explored the impact of texting-related tickets on rates of coverage.

The analysis’s motorist profile was a 25-year-old single man with a 2008 Honda Civic DX, driving 10,000 miles annually and seeking 25/50 bodily injury coverage limits.

For the first insurer, a texting violation inflated rates by 10.5 percent overall.

At the second insurer, the auto insurance quote saw a 9.1 percent increase overall.

Texting violations at the third insurer did not show any price impact.

Together, the three insurance carriers quoted in the analysis represented about a third of the U.S. auto insurance market.

Multiple texting tickets can also lead to more insurance-related charges, often because of points assigned to a driving record for violations. However, each texting ban varies in the severity of those points and whether any points are charged at all. There is a relatively harsh point-based penalty in New York, where offenders get three points added to their driving record.

The presence of several points on a driver’s record will inflate rates, although the size of those price hikes depends on the insurer.