Monday, December 29, 2014

N.J. right to stick with teen-driver decals

For teen drivers in New Jersey, the greatest risk faced on the highway isn’t the controversial red decals that they’re required to display on their car’s license plates.

N.J. right to stick with teen-driver decals

The red sticker is required when provisional drivers under 21 are at the wheel.
The red sticker is required when provisional drivers under 21 are at the wheel. TOM GRALISH / Staff

For teen drivers in New Jersey, the greatest risk faced on the highway isn’t the controversial red decals that they’re required to display on their car’s license plates.

But that little decal could help save the lives of many young and experienced motorists — since it affords police a ready means of cracking down on deadly distractions for teen drivers, as well as enforcing seat-belt rules.

So it’s good news that the state Supreme Court ruled the decal mandate legal on Monday.

A legal challenge from a North Jersey lawyer contended that the decal requirement puts teenagers at risk from predators by making them easier to spot in their marked automobiles. Assemblyman Sean Kean (R., Monmouth) also criticized the decal law as “Big Brother telling parents how to keep their kids safe and how to run their lives.”

Does it make sense for young drivers to display a sticker on their license plates?
Yes, helps police enforce safety restrictions for new drivers
No, puts young drivers at risk for harassment
Yes, good reminder for teens, parents on anti-distraction rules
No, cops shouldn’t need stickers to enforce law

Just as a lower appeals court had concluded earlier, though, the high court wisely ruled that the decal doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy or overstep the bounds of search-and-seizure rules.

As for the danger of young motorists being stalked on the highway, there’s no evidence that the decal program, which was enacted four years ago as part of the state’s progressive licensing rules, has put any drivers at greater risk.

While road-rage confrontations and behind-the-wheel harassment remain a potential problem for motorists of all ages, the challenges to the state’s decal law obscure the fact that New Jersey’s graduated-licensing rules, if strictly applied, will keep teenage drivers safer.

As more and more passengers hop into a teen driver’s car, the risk of a fatal crash increases exponentially. That’s why New Jersey and other states — belatedly joined by Pennsylvania late last year — have imposed passenger limits for young drivers. With fewer friends along for the ride, these teenagers behind the wheel stand a better chance of avoiding the types of distractions that often trigger accidents.

The decals required on teenagers’ cars are meant to remind both them and their parents that young drivers should follow the rules about the allowable number of passengers, wear a seat belt, and follow the state’s ban on texting and handheld phones.

For police, the decals easily identify which vehicles are carrying motorists who are subject to the tighter rules.

Over a two-year period, that’s meant that more than 4,000 teenage drivers were stopped, ticketed, and, presumably, convinced that it makes more sense to abide by the rules than risk becoming a highway statistic.

With the death toll for teenagers on New Jersey highways rising by 25 percent last year, every license decal displayed on a car could be a lifesaver.

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