The busy summer driving season kicking off this weekend and today, officials and agencies throughout New Jersey are encouraging drivers 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.

State Attorney General Jeff Chiesa says, “These 101 days of summer mark one of the busiest and most dangerous times on the road. 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.”

The statistics are sobering. Last year, during the summer months of June, July and August, 146 people lost their lives in traffic accidents. 10,000 drivers in New Jersey have been involved in crashes since 2008 while using cell phones. Unsafe speed and driver inattention are listed as contributing circumstances in nearly 40 percent of all crashes. 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.

In 2011 New Jersey improved to 94.5 percent front seat belt usage. Rear seat belt usage also improved, but remained dangerously low at 61 percent. Motor vehicle occupants who wear their seat belts increase their chances of surviving an accident by 75 percent.

Seat belt usage will be primary focus 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.”