To improve car safety and aid in law enforcement, New Jersey is set to begin a new program requiring red decals on the front and rear license plates on any vehicle driven by a permit or probationary license holder under age 21.
The new law goes into effect on May 1st. It is called Kyleigh’s Law after Kyleigh D’Alessio, a New Jersey teenager who was killed in a car driven by a driver on probation. Under the state’s Graduated Driver License rules (GDL), it will require all new drivers and current drivers holding a probationary license to purchase the decals at $4 a pair and affix them on the top left corner of the license plates. The decals are removable, so other family members can take them off before driving. Failure to display the decals is a violation subject to a $100 fine. State officials hope that the new decal will help police officers enforce the state’s GDL requirements.
Once a teen completes the 12-month probationary period and receives an unrestricted license, the decal can be removed.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. In 2008, over 4,000 teens aged 13-19 died in crashes and accident risk is particularly high in the first few months of licensure. The primary reasons for teen crashes include overconfidence, speeding, driving under the influence, distracted driving, and inexperience. Making matters worse, seat belt use is the lowest for this age group.
The new decal program is not without its opponents. A NJ judge upheld the law earlier this month after a lawsuit was filed arguing that it was unconstitutional because of age discrimination and that teens would be targeted by not only police, but possibly predators. The judge dismissed the lawsuit stating that the law does not violate the NJ constitution.
The new law is the result of a three-year project begun by former Governor Jon Corzine that established a teen driver safety commission to study teen driving in the state and come up with recommendations to help reduce crashes and save lives. In 2008, the 15-member Commission unveiled 47 recommendations, but highlighted 14 that should be addressed immediately.
In addition to the decal program, a number of other enhancements to the GDL restrictions were also announced to go into effect on May 1st. Permit and probationary license holders cannot operate a vehicle between 11 p.m and 5 a.m. and may not use any handheld, hands-free interactive, or wireless device. Passenger restrictions for these license holders were also updated. (See the NJ state Web site for further details.)
Since NJ enacted their initial GDL requirements in 2001, crashes are down 5 percent and fatalities reduced by 15 percent. Officials hope these new restrictions will continue to improve teen driver safety and help bring those crash and death toll numbers down even further.—Liza Barth