TRENTON - Police plan an aggressive seat-belt enforcement campaign starting Monday, using as a backdrop the serious injuries suffered by Gov. Corzine after he failed to buckle up.
Traffic safety officials hope lessons learned from Corzine's April 12 Garden State Parkway crash mean they will not spot many unbuckled drivers.
"I think the public has certainly gotten a wake-up call, if you will, about how important seat belts are," said Pam Fischer, the state highway traffic safety division director.
The "Click It or Ticket" enforcement campaign is scheduled to last until June 3.
Corzine broke a leg, 11 ribs, and his collarbone and sternum in the crash, which occurred as his state-trooper-driven SUV was clipped by a pickup truck and slammed into a guardrail after going 91 m.p.h. Corzine was a front-seat passenger and was violating the state law requiring him to wear a seat belt.
The campaign has been held for several years and was planned before Corzine's crash, but Fischer said the accident helped put focus on seat-belt use in New Jersey.
"Having the governor involved in this crash has certainly called much more attention to this situation," she said. "We struggle in this traffic-safety business trying to get our message out there day in, day out. While the governor was one person involved that day, we lose about 119 people a day on the road across the country."
Corzine, his mobility restricted as he recovers from the crash, is not directly involved in the campaign. However, on Tuesday he taped a separate public service announcement urging people to use seat belts. "Hopefully, we can get it in place and on the air before Memorial Day," Corzine spokesman Anthony Coley said.
"The message is very compelling and powerful," Fischer said. She said the highway traffic safety division hopes Corzine will also address other driving hazards as time passes.
That would suit Jim Ebert of Delanco, who said he had been more worried about the speed of Corzine's SUV and dangers posed by speeding. "I really wish he would come out and say something about it," Ebert said. "I'm scared to death to ride around on these highways these days."
The campaign stems from a national effort and is being funded in New Jersey with an $800,000 federal grant to help 206 police agencies, along with the state police, participate. An estimated 90 percent of New Jerseyans use seat belts, the eighth-highest rate in the nation in 2006, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
In the United States, 43,443 people were killed on the roads in 2005, including 768 in New Jersey. Of those in New Jersey, 229 weren't buckled up. AAA says that using a seat belt reduces the risk of death by about 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent for front-seat passengers.