New York officials hope the designation of "texting zones" along state highways will encourage drivers to pull over if they want to use their cellphones while out on the road.

The plan, unveiled in a press event Monday, is to highlight park-and-ride facilities, rest stops and other parking areas along the state's highways as places where drivers can safely use their cellphones by dubbing them "texting zones."

Nearly 300 signs will point motorists towards 91 locations where they can use their phones. State officials say they believe they're the first to use signage to encourage cellphone use in designated places.

Nationwide, cellphone use in vehicles continues to be a challenge that traffic safety experts have sought to combat. In 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, 3,331 people died and another 387,000 were injured in distraction-affected crashes, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

While some safety experts say the best drivers can do is turn their cellphone off and store them in some place that's out-of-reach, New York's approach seems to recognize that today, a slightly more flexible approach might be needed: if you use your phone, use it some place safely.

"With this new effort, we are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road because your text can wait until the next Texting Zone," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Cuomo says he believes the new initiative will work in concert with other publicity campaigns as well as harsher distracted driving penalties enacted in recent years to make roadways safer.

This summer -- from Independence Day through Labor Day -- the state increased enforcement of distracted driving laws, largely through the use of state police patrolling roads in unmarked SUVs that were designed with raised platforms to give law enforcement a better view of the inside of vehicles.

According to figures released by the governor's office, the state issued 21,580 citations for cellphone use or texting while driving during that time, more than quadruple the number issued during the same period last year.

Cuomo has made distracted driving laws one of his signature efforts, in part because state officials estimate that from 2005 to 2011, cellphone related crashes increased in New York by 143 percent.

In 2011, Cuomo signed a law that made texting-and-driving a "primary" traffic offense, giving cops the ability to pull people over for that infraction alone.

Earlier this year, New York increased the penalties for drivers with probationary or junior licenses caught texting or talking on the phone while driving. The first offense will keep them off the road for 60 days, and a second offense could result in a six-month suspension.

New York officials this year also upped the fines for distracted driving.

This article originally appeared on GOVERNING.com.

Ryan Holeywell  |  Contributing Writer