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John R. Hagerty, State Police Public Information Office
(609) 882-2000 x6515
Paul Loriquet, Attorney General's Office
(609) 292-4791
Jeff Lamm, Highway Traffic Safety
(609) 633-9045


Attorney General, State Police & Highway Traffic Safety Officials Focus On Designated Driver Program & Seat Belt Enforcement To Reduce Accidents

       New Brunswick - Attorney General John J. Farmer, Jr., Colonel Carson J. Dunbar, Jr., Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Peter J. O'Hagan, Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety and Frank X. McDermott, Chairman of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, today called on all New Jersey drivers to put highway safety "first on the list" during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and throughout the entire summer driving season.

        In announcing the summer traffic enforcement initiatives and highway safety efforts, Attorney General Farmer expressed his support of the designated driver program and introduced Mr. William Elliott, the founder of the "Be A Hero Campaign For Designated Drivers" and a proponent of stronger drunk driving legislation which requires law enforcement officers to impound the vehicle of anyone arrested for driving while intoxicated for a period of up to 12 hours. The law, known as "John's Law," takes effect on Aug. 1.

       "Too many people are still dying on our highways because of drinking and driving," said Attorney General Farmer. "If you choose to make drinking a part of your July 4th holiday, leave the driving of a vehicle - or the operation of any watercraft - to someone who has agreed not to indulge. If you are socializing with a group of people who are going to be drinking, ‘Be a Hero, Be a Designated Driver'."

        Mr. Elliott lost his son, Navy Ensign John R. Elliott, 22, of Egg Harbor Township, to a drunk driver on July 22, 2000. The drunk driver had been arrested by State Police earlier in the evening and, after following all processing and charging procedures, State Police released the drunk driver to the custody of an adult acquaintance. The adult subsequently allowed the drunk driver to get back into his vehicle and to drive away - ultimately resulting in the crash that killed John Elliott, the drunk driver and seriously injured Elliott's female passenger.

       "Nearly one year ago our family suffered the tragic loss of our son John," said Elliott. "Even more tragic was the knowledge that his death could have and should have been prevented. That's why our family, in John's name, established the ‘HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers'. If each of us become designated drivers, use designated drivers, and encourage others to do the same, we will help to keep drunk drivers off the road."

        Colonel Dunbar announced that throughout July, state troopers across the state will conduct a high intensity enforcement campaign targeting drivers and their passengers who are not wearing seat belts. The program, geared to increase compliance with New Jersey's primary seat belt law, will result in the issuance of summonses to drivers for failure to buckle themselves and their passengers. Troopers will specifically attempt to identify children not properly secured in approved child restraint seats. The stepped-up enforcement campaign will run through July and will be in effect in all State Police patrol areas, including the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, Atlantic City Expressway, and all interstate highways.

        According to Director O'Hagan, New Jersey's seat belt use rate increased from 63.3% to 74.2% following enactment of the primary seat belt law in May, 2000. Drivers and front seat passengers who do not wear their seat belts face a $24 summons.

        "People are being needlessly injured and killed in crashes because they are not buckling up," O'Hagan said. "Just last month, six unbuckled people were thrown out of a vehicle during a crash on the Turnpike. Three persons were killed. Seat belts prevent ejections and increase a person's chances of surviving a crash."

        The State Police will maximize patrol resources throughout the 48-hour July 4th holiday period and urged drivers to stay alert during their summer driving trips. The highway safety officials reminded that state troopers and county and municipal police officers will not only focus on seat belt violators, but will also pay particular attention to the inattentive, careless and drowsy driver as they go about the business of enforcing the state's traffic laws and promoting safe driving practices.

        As part of the overall highway safety and enforcement program, increased numbers of state troopers will be assigned to high visibility tactical patrol units to monitor traffic using state-of-the-art speed enforcement technology. Troopers will also be moving around the state to identify the drunk and drinking driver and will also staff stationary sobriety checkpoints in all State Police patrol areas.

        The 2001 July 4th holiday officially begins at 12:01 a.m. on Tues., July 3rd and continues through midnight on Wed., July 4th. During the 2000 July 4th holiday, 18 persons lost their lives as a result of motor vehicle accidents on New Jersey roadways - seven of the fatal accidents involved drunk drivers with BAC (blood alcohol content) readings in excess of the .10 limit. 294 people have died in traffic-related accidents so far this year (Jan. 1 through June 24) compared to 331 highway deaths recorded during the same period last year (2000) - a 11.2 percent drop in overall highway deaths.

        In addition to increased highway safety responsibilities, Colonel Dunbar advised that personnel assigned to the State Police Marine Patrol Bureau will be patrolling the ocean, bays, intercoastal waterways, rivers and lakes throughout the summer boating season. Enforcement activities will focus on drunk and drinking boaters and persons recklessly operating personal watercraft (jet skis) and other power vessels.

        New Jersey's boating laws and regulations require that operators of personal watercraft be at least 16 years of age; that persons born after Jan. 1, 1979 obtain a state boating safety certificate and have that certificate in their possession when operating any power vessel; that persons born on or before Dec. 31, 1978 have a state boating safety certificate in their possession when operating a personal watercraft and that operators on non-tidal waters have a New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles boating license in addition to a state boating safety certificate. Power vessel operators without a boating certificate will be subject to fines ranging from $100 to $500.

        The New Jersey State Police also issued a reminder to New Jersey residents and visitors that all fireworks are illegal to possess and use and that it is a crime to sell, use, and/or possess any kind of fireworks -- including Chinese firecrackers, Roman candles, M80's, cherry bombs, salutes, M100's, sparklers, etc.

        The State Police noted that the vast majority of illegal fireworks are brought into New Jersey by adults and, as a result of such irresponsible actions, a disproportionate number of children suffer injuries. In an effort to prevent injuries and property damage, State Police step-up enforcement activities during the summer "fireworks season", confiscating illegal fireworks wherever found. In any given year, the State Police confiscate between 500 and 1,000 cases of illegal fireworks or approximately six to eight tons of illegal explosives.

        Possession of illegal fireworks is a disorderly persons offense and is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 30 days in jail. Possession with intent to sell is a Fourth Degree crime, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 18 months in jail. And, possession of destructive devices is a Third Degree crime with fines of up to $10,000 and incarceration of up to three to five years in jail.

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