New Jersey Teens Oppose Red License Plate Decals
By Chris Haak
Under a law that went into effect a month ago, vehicles driven by individuals under age 21 in New Jersey must have a red decal on their license plates. The red decal is part of Kyleigh’s Law, passed last year by the state legislature nearly unanimously and signed into law by then-Governor Jon Corzine. The law is named for New Jersey teenager Kyleigh D’Alessio, who was killed in a 2006 car crash in which another teen was driving.
Other provisions of the law, intended to force inexperienced teenage drivers to concentrate on driving only, include:
- All occupants of the vehicle must have their seatbelts fastened.
- The holder of the provisional license under age 21 may not drive between 12:01 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., except in cases of emergency or bona fide employment or religious activity (with documentation)
- A prohibition on using any wireless interactive communication device, including texting, messaging, talking on the cell phone
- The vehicle may be operated with no more than one other passenger, except in cases where the passenger is a dependent, a parent or guardian
Most of the law’s provisions are not controversial – many agree that distracted driving and peer pressure are both very real dangers for any drivers, and for inexperienced drivers, they are even more dangerous. But the external identification of who the youngest drivers are has many teens, parents, and grandparents up in arms.
In the 1990s, Florida’s rental cars all had license plates with a Y or Z on them, so criminals would target those cars for robberies and other nefarious crimes. In all, nine murders were attributed to the Y/Z license plates, and the Florida legislature quickly reversed their stance on them.
Supporters of New Jersey’s decals believe that teens will be more inclined to moderate their behavior on the roads, knowing that they are flagged as inexperienced drivers. Personally, I liken the stickers to driver’s ed cars, with “STUDENT DRIVER” broadcast on all sides of the car. Many folks, myself included, will steer clear of student drivers whenever possible to keep themselves safe and to clear a wide swath in case the student driver makes a mistake.
I have children, but not of driving age, and I’m not sure I oppose this law. I already expect to Big Brother my sons’ driving habits big-time, being only a decade and a half from my own teenage years and remembering some of the foolish things I did then. My boys will be subject to any of the following: GPS tracking, OBD-II throttle and speed monitoring, curfews, restrictions on who may and may not ride with them, and maintaining their own vehicles. They also can only dream about having a car with more than 150 horsepower, though, as I pointed out to my father in my formative years, I could kill myself driving a 100-horsepower car the same as I could in a 400-horsepower car. The thing is, it’s easier to do with 400 horsepower.
When on the road, it’s easy to see the face of fellow motorists and have a pretty good idea of their age. I can spot teenagers, thirtysomethings, elderly, beautiful women – you name it. When passing a dawdler who had been obstructing traffic, I’ll often make a game of predicting what type of person is driving the car based on the type of car and the way it’s being driven – and I’m usually right. So I don’t see why a red sticker identifying a teen is a big deal. Would a stalker watching a young woman leaving her job at the mall not realize that she’s a teen until she got to her car? Would such a person not realize that a young woman is a teen from her appearance and, frankly, her driving habits/abilities?