When it comes to highway safety, New Jersey made some important strides in the past year in many areas, but there is still work to do.

Garden State Parkway at exit 129 (Route 440/I-287) (NJ DOT)

In fact, new incentive funds from Congress could help improve safety programs in 2013. That's according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

"We have some very stringent laws in New Jersey in regard to child passenger safety, in regard to seat belts, texting and driving and distracted driving. We have some very aggressive laws and that is good news and will hopefully keep traffic fatalities on the decline in New Jersey," said Tracy Noble, spokeswoman AAA Mid-Atlantic. "One area where we do not measure up is in the area of teen driving. That being said, we do have a one-of-a-kind teen driving law in New Jersey which is Kyleigh's Law and involves the red decal being displayed on new drivers' license plates. Where we're lacking is the practice driving hours."

"We are one of only three states in the country that do not require mandated practice driving hours," said Noble. "There is some legislation that is being worked on now that we are working to get passed. It's strange with all of the traffic safety laws we do have that help save lives, that we don't have this important law in New Jersey."

So, what is on tap for 2013?

"We're hoping to increase the restrictions and specifications for the teen driver laws. We're also looking at child passenger safety immunity. Hopefully, we'll get some of the incentive funding to help fix our roadways and infrastructure that are in much need of repair," said Noble. "Every bit helps. We have so many roadways that are in need of repair, we have bridges that are in need of replacement or repair so we have a long way to go. Our toll roads seem to stack up ok when it comes to user ratings, but it's our local, community and county roads that don't measure up and are in need of attention."

The recent passage of MAP 21, the federal transportation authorization law, provides an average of $500 million annually in incentive funding for states that address safety improvements. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in December released estimates that traffic deaths increased by 7.1 percent in the first nine months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

The estimated rate of deaths also went up from 1.09 to 1.16 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

"The recent federal estimate that traffic deaths increased during th first nine months of 2012 is a reminder that safety gains are not inevitable and that continued legislative action is necessary to help reduce fatal crashes," said Noble. "Between the heavy toll of highway deaths and the availability of new federal funds, state policymakers have many reasons to act on road safety this year."