The state is taking another look at Kyleigh's Law, which went into effect May 1 and requires identifying decals on the license plates of cars operated by probationary drivers. I don't intend to give my opinion on whether or not the law should be repealed, but I do have mixed feelings about it.
The state of New Jersey has a Graduated Driver's License (GDL) program which requires new drivers to complete stages of supervised and restricted driving before they can earn full, unrestricted driving privileges. Considering the overwhelming statistics regarding teen deaths and car crashes, the GDL makes good sense.
Kyleigh's Law was enacted to help police identify those drivers who are violating the rules of the GDL. Restrictions for GDL drivers include: No driving between 11:01 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.; front seat supervision by an adult driver with at least three years experience for learners permit drivers; no more than one additional passenger other than parents, guardians, or dependents; no use of cell phones, hand held video games or any other hands-free interactive, wireless communication device; and mandatory seatbelt use.
According to ConsumerReports.org, every year car accidents are the leading cause of death among teens; in 2008, 4,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 19 were killed in crashes. According to the report, teens are more likely to get in crashes because of "overconfidence, speeding, driving under the influence, distracted driving, and inexperience." Also, seatbelt use is low among this age group. Since the original GDL requirements went into effect in New Jersey in 2001, car accidents are down by 5 percent and fatalities are down by 15 percent, according to Consumer Reports.
It seems that some parents are concerned about the decal requirement for their young drivers because they are worried about profiling by police and their teen's vulnerability to predators. I can understand the latter concern; however, I think kids are no more vulnerable than when parents advertise their kid's names next to the sports group to which they belong on the rear of their cars. As to the concern about police targeting their teens, I wonder why parents would argue if it means that the police are enforcing laws being broken by their kids; laws that are intended to protect them from getting into crashes.
If more parents paid greater attention to what their kids were doing, perhaps there would be no need for the decals. Perhaps more moms and dads should be the enforcers of the rules: Make sure you know who is getting in the car with your kids; make it known to your teen that cell phone use while driving is prohibited, seatbelts are mandatory, and overall safe driving is expected. And if the rules are broken, parents should inflict punishment: Take away electronics or other privileges-even better take away the keys! I suspect that to driving teens, this is a fate worse than death and would work well as a deterrent.
Interestingly, I have heard many parents say that they will not let their teens use the decals because they don't want their teens to be a target. I understand this, but aren't they sending the wrong message to their kids, that it is okay to break the rules if you don't agree with them?
I cannot fathom putting my kids behind the wheel. It seems like just yesterday that she was still playing with Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets? Now she's only two years and two months away from the minimum age to get a learner's permit. I think I would also be worried if my teen had to drive a car with one of those decals on it. But at the same time, I would want help reinforcing the rules to keep her safe.
Note to my N.J. legislators: Please consider changing the driving age to 25.