TRENTON – With the busy summer driving season kicking off this weekend, officials and agencies throughout New Jersey are encouraging motorists to play it safe as they travel to all corners of the state to enjoy the warm weather.

The Division of Highway Traffic Safety, Division of State Police and Department of Transportation are coordinating an awareness effort called the “101 Days of Summer Traffic Safety” to focus on the busy travel season between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend.

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Locally, the Passaic County Aggressive Driving Task Force will be targeting major roadways in the Passaic County area, including Routes 21, 3, 46, 23 and 208 and Interstates 80, 280 and 287.

Designed to promote safe driving at the outset of the heavily traveled Memorial Day holiday, the county task force will target aggressive driving-related violations, as well as drunk driving. The operation takes place during the statewide “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt enforcement mobilization (May 21-June 3). Since its inception in September, 1999 the task force has issued more than 33,800 summonses and made 310 criminal arrests.

“These 101 days of summer mark one of the busiest and most dangerous times on the roads,” said Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa. “With increased risks should come increased focus on the safe driving basics: wear your seat belt, obey the speed limits, don’t give in to distractions, and never drink and drive.  Following these rules will go a long way to assuring a safe summer season.”

Last year, during the summer months of June, July and August, 146 people lost their lives in traffic accidents.

Chiesa said statistics show just how important these common sense safety principles are.

Distracted Driving:

         10,000 drivers in New Jersey have been involved in crashes since 2008 while using cell phones.

         Motorists who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash than those drivers who aren’t distracted.

Unsafe Speed:

         Aggressive drivers put people at risk with unsafe speed and other violations such as following too closely, unsafe lane changes, and the disregarding of traffic signals.

         Unsafe speed and driver inattention are listed as contributing circumstances in nearly 40 percent of all crashes.

Driving While Intoxicated:

        In 2010 alcohol was consumed to some extent in 31 percent of fatal crashes in New Jersey . One hundred and sixty-eight people were killed in those accidents.

Seatbelt Usage:

         In 2011 New Jersey improved to 94.5 percent front seatbelt usage. Rear seatbelt usage also improved, but remained dangerously low at 61 percent.

         Motor vehicle occupants who wear their seatbelts increase their chances of surviving an accident by 75 percent.

Seat belt usage will be at the fore during the early days of the “101 Days” campaign, according to Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky. That’s because through June 3, law enforcement agencies will be cracking down on unbuckled motorists and their passengers during the annual “Click It or Ticket” mobilization. Last year, more than 400 law enforcement agencies participated in the crackdown.

"The technology that makes us more accessible and efficient outside of the vehicle can also put us in danger if used while operating a vehicle,” said State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes. “Any activity that diverts a driver's attention from the road threatens their safety and that of other motorists. All too often, troopers investigating crashes find the root cause to be cell phone use or texting.”

According to the Department of Transportation, there were about 300,000 motor vehicle accidents on New Jersey roadways in 2011, including 587 fatal crashes. During last year’s Memorial Day weekend, seven people were killed in seven separate accidents throughout the state.  Five motorcyclists died, and others died in alcohol-related accidents.

“New Jersey offers residents and visitors a wide range of summertime recreational opportunities, so it is especially important for residents and visitors to stay safe while on the road by obeying speed limits, slowing down in work zones and avoiding distractions while driving," said NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson. "Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians all have responsibilities to follow the rules of the road to promote safety."

Help prevent crashes by keeping a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. One way to reduce the frustration of unexpected traffic congestion is to check before starting a trip. It provides up-to-the-minute information on congestion, accidents and other factors that might prompt you to adjust your route or departure time. NJDOT’s 511 interactive telephone line provides motorists personalized real-time traffic information as well.