Traffic backs up at the intersection of 19th Street and the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa.

Traffic backs up at the intersection of 19th Street and the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa. (FILE PHOTO)

It's time to put away those cell phones or risk getting a ticket.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police departments are keeping an eye out for drivers who focus more on their cell phones than on the road.

Distracted driving, which can cost $159 for the first offense and $279 for each subsequent ticket, killed more than 3,000 people in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The month-long campaign proclaims "It's Not Worth It!" and aims to keep drivers from talking on a phone or texting while behind a steering wheel.

Drivers younger than 20 are at a greater risk of accidents, the NHTSA says, because texting can delay responses much like the effect of alcohol. Cell phones, whether a hands-free device is used or not, trigger "inattention blindness."

"We all know that talking on our cell phone while driving is distracting, but that doesn't stop some people from continuing to do it," Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson said in a news release. "This effort is intended to educate our community about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. We hope that once people see the statistics and realize the danger involved, they will change their driving habits to help protect themselves, their families and others on the road. "

Last year, officers handed out 57,000 tickets across California as part of the same program, officials said.

Costa Mesa's Zero Tolerance Distracted Driving Enforcement Operation includes a driving-under-the-influence and driver's license checkpoint at an undisclosed location from 8 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday.

Impaired driving can lead to a jail sentence, license suspension and insurance increase. With the cost of fines, fees and classes, the total can exceed $10,000 for an offense.

In the last three years, 547 drunken-driving crashes have injured or killed 247 people in Costa Mesa, according to a Costa Mesa police news release. Police made more than 2,700 DUI arrests in the same period.

A California Office of Traffic Safety grant is financing the checkpoint.

Police offer the following tips to drivers:

•Turn off your phone or put it out of reach while driving.

•Include in your outgoing message that you can't answer while you are driving.

•Don't call or text anyone when you think they may be driving.

rhea.mahbubani@latimes.com

Twitter: @RMahbubani