Teen-driver decals save lives, study says
It remains to be seen, though, whether being required to have a sticker on their car will prevent teens from engaging in risky driving behavior.
This post comes from Matt Brownell at partner site CarInsurance.com.
Data released Tuesday by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia estimates that 1,624 crashes were prevented in the year after the passage of Kyleigh's Law, which helps police enforce the state's graduated driver licensing laws.
Teenage drivers are prohibited from having passengers in the car, driving at night and using a cellphone while driving. The $4 decal helps police spot those drivers.
The study found that police wrote 14% more GDL-related tickets in the year after the law was passed, and that the crash rate of cars involving intermediate drivers fell 9%.
Critics have argued that the stickers could make teens the targets of sexual predators, though only one such incident has been reported thus far. And a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (.pdf file) found that the law hasn't increased compliance by teenage drivers with restrictions.
"The results were mixed," says IIHS spokesperson Russ Rader. "We found that the law did help police enforce graduated license restrictions, but it didn't appear to improve compliance with the law."
In other words, the stickers are helping New Jersey police spot more teenage scofflaws and write more tickets for violations, but New Jersey teens don't seem to be changing their habits -- at least not yet.
Is an 'L plate' in your future?
Pam Fischer, a former director of highway safety in New Jersey and one of the law's biggest proponents, points to similar successes in other countries:
- In Australia, whose graduated licensing laws served as a template for New Jersey's, teens graduate from an "L plate" to a sequence of color-coded "P plates" over the course of a probationary period.
- In British Columbia, a "learner's license" requires a sign in the rear window for drivers in the earliest phase of training.
- In Japan, new drivers and those over the age of 75 have special stickers that must be displayed on the car.
One study by Monash University in Australia (.pdf file) found that other countries' licensing programs now have "overwhelming support," suggesting that the American public could eventually come around.
"We're well behind many other modernized countries when it comes to licensing and testing, and we're playing catch-up," says Fischer.
While New Jersey decals survived a court challenge in August, the political atmosphere seems less forgiving. In the IIHS study, a survey of parents found a whopping 84% disapproved of the law.
Fischer acknowledges that there hasn't been much movement in other states to consider similar measures.
Then how about a 'W'?
New Jersey is not the only state in the union that can force you to buy a special license plate.
Ohio and Minnesota have laws in place requiring the use of special plates for convicted drunken drivers. In Ohio, two DUI convictions in six years -- or a first offense with a 0.17% blood-alcohol content or higher -- can lead a judge to stick you with a special yellow plate. A spokesperson for the state's department of public safety says that more than 4,600 such plates are currently issued in Ohio.
Meanwhile, Minnesota drivers with a similar pattern of drunken-driving convictions have their license plates impounded, but drivers or their families can get so-called "whiskey plates" (starting with the letter W) with a valid driver's license.
Other states have considered such whiskey-plate laws, but with little progress. In New York state, for instance, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has repeatedly introduced a bill that would require drunken drivers to get special plates, but according to a spokesperson, the bill is languishing in committee.
And such bills aren't getting any help from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which is more focused on laws requiring ignition interlock systems that prevent inebriated people from operating vehicles.
"In terms of DUI plates, that's not something that MADD advocates for, and we have not seen any studies that say they're effective," says J.T. Griffin, the group's senior vice president of public policy. "MADD's not there to put a scarlet letter on an offender."
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