Unpopular New Jersey Law Requires Teens Drivers to Display Decal
New Jersey has been stepping up enforcement on its teen driver decals program. The unpopular law has been widely criticized by those who are concerned it could to lead to criminals targeting younger drivers. Proponents of the law say teens are more likely to comply with the law if they know they can be easily identified. Since May 1, 2010 all vehicles operated by drivers under the age of 21 or with learner’s permits or probationary licenses are required to display a detachable fluorescent red decal on the front and rear license plate to help law enforcement quickly identify them as a restricted driver. The law also changed the curfew from midnight to 11pm and restricts the number of passengers to 1 (besides dependents or parents) they may carry.
The law termed Kyleigh’s Law was initiated after the teenage girl was killed while riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by another teen who was in violation of the license restrictions. Failure to display the decal will result in a $100 fine in addition to other fines that may be incurred.
The law is unpopular with parents as well as teens. In 2011 75% of parents surveyed with children with learners permits, and 90% of parents with probationary licenses disapproved of the law. The most common reason for the disapproval were concerns for teens being profiled or targeted by other drivers or police, identifying or drawing negative attention to teen drivers, and the risk of predators. Governor Chris Cristie has ordered a review of the law over concerns that it may inflict unintentional consequences.
"We must take potentially unintended consequences of the law seriously," said Christie, "and make any necessary changes based on hard facts and evidence.”
To gauge compliance about the decal requirements researches conducted phone surveys immediately before the law went into effect and then again a year later. Researchers found low use of the decals. Observations at high schools on the fall of 2010 and the spring of 2011 found use rose in 2 schools and fell in slightly in 2 others. It found only about a quarter of the teens in 2 of the schools were displaying the decals in the spring. At the other school one third of the students were displaying the decal and at the fourth school 64% did not display the decal.
The law does provide for exemptions for work or religious purposes. The driver must carry with them proof of certification on official letterhead and signed by an employer or religious figure.
The fact is that studies show that a teen drivers risk is highest of being involved in a car crash within their first 12-24 months. An average of 6,000 teens die in car accidents each year on our nation’s roads. An additional 300,000 teens sustain injuries many being serious and with life changing results. By reducing the and delaying full driving privileges so teens can gain valuable driving experience under low risk situations it is believed the graduated license program can reduce the risk of those deaths and injuries by 40%.
Law enforcement citations have nearly doubled since the laws inception indicating that the decals do aid in law enforcement. It is still too early to see if statics reveal any reduction in the rate of accidents, deaths or injuries due to the tougher sanctions. The law is currently under review by the New Jersey Supreme Court to see if the law is constitutional or unjustly discriminatory. In 2011 an appeals court upheld the law. The state supreme court will decide the case later this year.
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