MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Local businesses led by Burke Motor Group are kicking off a new safe-driving campaign for students at Middle Township High School.

The dealership and other Cape May County businesses are offering perks to students who pledge to drive safely.

The dealership gave a presentation called “Driven to Action” to the student body recently to talk about the dangers of distracted driving and distribute pledge cards. Participating businesses will offer discounts or freebies to students who display their pledge card, said community relations director Francey Burke.

The dealership sponsors a lot of community and school events. But while brainstorming ideas with her son, director of operations Doug Burke, they agreed a safe-driving campaign seemed like the perfect fit, she said.

“He said, ‘We shouldn’t just have safe cars. We should have safe drivers,’” she said.

Doug Burke, of Middle Township, and marketing director A.J. Stelacio, of Lower Township, will give an interactive presentation to the students during a morning assembly.

The Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey promotes safe driving for teenagers. It has an interactive site that shows accidents involving teen drivers in New Jersey between 2007 and 2009. Except for a small patch of the Pine Barrens and Delaware Water Gap, the entire state is dotted with crashes.

Likewise, the state has an even distribution of fatal crashes involving teens during the same period.

The group identified numerous risk factors for teen drivers, including distractions such as texting and talking on the phone, failing to buckle up, speeding and overconfidence.

Burke said she remembers learning to drive her family’s station wagon.

“But when I was driving, we didn’t have all these distractions. Even the hands-free feature is distracting,” she said.

About a dozen businesses are participating, including local restaurants, gyms and stores. She is soliciting more business participation this month, she said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Kirstie Kelleher, of Maurice River Township, who owns SunTastic Tanning in Middle Township. She is offering discounts to participating students.

“I remember so many times being a teenager in a car filled with kids. And we were reckless -- showing off for your friends,” she said.

If it goes well, Burke said she would like to expand the program to other Cape May County schools.

“Our hope is that we’ll have an impact on the teens and get them thinking about safe driving,” she said. “Hopefully, the pledge card will remind them why they’re doing this and why it’s important to drive safely.”

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