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Thursday, April 30, 2009

NJ to Tag Young Drivers with Vehicle Decal

Garden State Sponsors First-in-the-Nation Bill

If you knew there was a teenager at the wheel of the car in front of you, would you drive any differently?

New Jersey is the first state in the nation to require new drivers ages 21 and younger to display identifying decals on their vehicles.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed the law recently, and it goes into effect next year.

According to motor vehicle officials, the decals will most likely be a small reflective rectangle attached to the front and rear license plates to help police enforce restrictions on probationary drivers.

Pam Fischer, director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Safety, said that police would use them to determine whether teens are violating the state driving curfew and passenger restrictions.

Authorities will not use the decals to target young drivers or pull them over without cause, she cautioned.

Ron Gesualdo, owner of Gene's Driving School in Matawan, said the decals are long overdue and will save lives.

"The parents are for it," he said. "The kids don't say anything, but you know what they're thinking."

The thinking amongst young people is that the decals will only mean more trouble for teenagers.

"That's going to mean police are going to be bothering us even more," said Tebvon Mcneil, 18, of Paterson. "They see that sticker on the car, they're just going to be pulling us over for no reason. Are there drugs in the car? That's the first thing they're going to think, because we're teenagers."

And not everyone thinks the new law will improve driver safety. Jennifer Collins, a 29-year-old Hamilton resident, pondered whether the stickers would distract other drivers who are seeking them out while driving.

"That really doesn't make any sense to me, honestly," she said.

So other drivers using the same car can remove them, Velcro is being considered to attach the decals.

"It will probably be nondescript and simple, and the public at large is probably not even going to notice it," Fischer said.

The decals were one of many new driving restrictions Corzine signed for young adults with probationary licenses, which allow them drive unsupervised under specific conditions.

Other restrictions include moving the driving curfew to 11 p.m. from midnight; allowing only one other young person in the car; and banning the use of cell phones, even hand-free ones.

"These restrictions are in place because they represent the things we know put teens at risk," Fischer said.

David Weinstein, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said although Delaware and Connecticut have toyed with the idea, New Jersey is the first state to require the decal.

Dawn Hopkins, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Transportation, said they are contemplating offering residents a reflective orange magnet that says, in black, capital letters: "NOVICE DRIVER." The magnets would be voluntary.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 61 percent of teenage passenger deaths in 2007 happened in vehicles driven by another teenager. Twenty percent of all passenger deaths occurred when a teenager was behind the wheel.

New Jersey's decal law was prompted by the driving death of a 16-year-old honor student in Morris County, Kyleigh D'Alessio, who perished in 2006 while riding in a car driven by a teenager with a probationary license.

"No issue is more important than protecting our children, so these efforts are essential to that," Corzine said. "We don't want to lose the beauty and the gifts that a Kyleigh could bring to all of us, and we need to take every step possible to make it something that doesn't occur in the future."

Did you know that courses are available to educate drivers on the rules of the road and the latest defensive driving techniques? Try one now!

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