Drivers across the Garden State are being warned about a new distracted driving crackdown that begins on Sunday.

A total of 219 New Jersey police departments and the State Police are sharing $1.3 million in grant money to carry out the U Drive, U Text, U Pay campaign, which will target drivers using their cell phones while they’re behind the wheel.

Gary Poedubicky, the acting director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, said the money will be used for overtime costs to put more officers on the streets.

“The crackdown is going to run through April 21 and it’s part of the nationwide effort which was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

He noted the beginning of the U Drive, U Text, U Pay campaign coincides with the start of Distracted Driving Awareness month.

“Driving and texting is illegal and it’s irresponsible and we’re trying to get the word out to the motoring public that it’s dangerous,” he said.

Poedubicky said you may think you’re able to safely text and drive, but numerous studies show that’s not really the case.

“Any action that takes the drivers attention away from the roadway is a serious matter and it’s important to stay focused on the road and avoid any distraction," he said.

First-time offenders could get slapped with a $200 to $400 ticket, but he said the point of the campaign is not to punish offenders.

“We’re trying to express to them the importance of not getting behind the wheel and driving distracted. When you do that the chance for a crash or an injury or fatality increases.”

“This is a life saving type of campaign, and it’s not a type of campaign to see how many tickets we can issue.”

Last year, Jersey authorities issued 15,292 summonses for talking and texting on cell phones, while 7,003 tickets were handed out for careless driving.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com