Decals for NJ teen drivers

March 21, 2008 3:49:30 PM PDT
New Jersey could become the first state in the country to require cars with teen drivers behind the wheel to be marked with a sticker or decal. Requiring a visible marker on a teen driver's car is among 47 recommendations in a final report of the Governor's Teen Driver Study Commission.

A copy of the report, set to be released Wednesday, was obtained by The Associated Press. It was first reported Friday by The Star-Ledger of Newark.

The report outlines ways to improve safety for teen drivers, who are involved in 12 percent of the state's motor vehicle accidents. "Being able to identify a teen driver stands out as the single most vexing issue for those responsible for administering and enforcing GDL (Graduated Driver's License) laws," according to the report.

"Requiring a GDL holder to display an identifier on the vehicle he or she is driving will aid police in enforcing the provisions of the GDL law and remove any concerns about 'profiling."'

Other states are considering a similar requirement, though none has adopted it, said Pam Fischer, director of the Highway Traffic Safety Commission and chairwoman of the panel. She said some European countries have successfully used placards to identify young drivers for years.

It would be up to the Motor Vehicle Commission to figure out what the identifier would look like and where and how it would be affixed to the car.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, began a pilot program in her district earlier this year in which parents and students could display decals with the letters GDL in bright colors to identify teen drivers. No word on how many have taken advantage of the program.

Handlin also has a bill in the Legislature to require the stickers statewide.

Some 48 teenage drivers and 19 teen passengers died in car crashes in New Jersey in 2006, a 6 percent increase from the prior year. Nationally, nearly 7,000 drivers ages 16-20 were killed in traffic accidents last year, half of whom were behind the wheel, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"When teens crash, they tend to take other people with them," said Fischer.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed the law creating the panel following a fiery 2007 crash in Freehold Township that killed a teen driver, his two passengers and an elderly driver in another car.

Other recommendations include:

- Increase to 50 hours the number of hours a young driver logs behind the wheel before qualifying for a provisional license.

- Require a parent/guardian to attend a teen driver orientation program with his or her teen before applying for a permit.

- Impose sanctions, like license suspension, for young drivers who violate the restrictions of their permit or provisional license.

- Extend the permit phase to one year, from six months, for all new drivers 16 to 20 years old.

- Close the loophole in the seat-belt law to require all back seat passengers buckle up.

- Limit the number of passengers in the probationary phase to one regardless of the passenger's relationship to the driver. Teen drivers currently are allowed to transport an unlimited number of family members, and one non-family member as passengers.

According to the report, a teen driver is 158 percent more likely to be killed in a crash while carrying two passengers. The risk increases to 207 percent when there are three passengers in a teen driver's car.

The increased risk is often the result of distraction and others in the car encouraging the teen driver to take risks. Since most teen crashes in New Jersey occur after school, the report says minimizing risks associated with passengers is critical.

Some of the steps recommended by the commission would require legislative action. Others could be accomplished by the MVC or by school districts, driving schools and police departments.