Decals required on license plates of young drivers do not violate their rights, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The high court unanimously backed a previous appellate ruling that found the decals required of drivers younger than 21 do not violate federal privacy laws or constitute unreasonable search and seizure.
“A driver’s age group constitutes neither ‘highly restricted personal information’ nor ‘personal information” under current federal law, the justices wrote. Also, because the stickers are plainly visible, they don’t require police to stop and search the vehicle.
The Graduated Driver License program has resulted in a significant drop in teen-related crashes, said Michael Tullio, of the South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance.
Prior to the implementation in May 1, 2010, teen crashes were about 56,000 to 57,000 per year in New Jersey, he said. Now, they are 42,000 to 43,000.
“That’s quite a drop,” he said. “I don’t know many laws that are as successful as that.”
Stickers are meant to help identify young drivers who are limited in the number of passengers they can have and the hours they can drive under the Graduated Driver License program.
“We’re thrilled that it was upheld,” Tullio said. “We believe that if a teen is going to comply with the sticker law, they are going to comply with the rest of the restrictions.”
New Jersey was the first state to require the decals for young drivers. The law is named for 16-year-old Kyleigh D’Alessio, who was killed in a 2006 crash in Washington Township, Mercer County, while riding in a car driven by another teen.
Opponents have argued that the decals can make teens vulnerable to predators.
“A predator doesn’t need an orange sticker to see if a teen driver is there,” said Tullio, a retired lieutenant from the Atlantic City Police Department. “One of the things that we’ve shown to parents during our presentations is, there are already many things that show who is in the car.”
He pointed to high school athletics stickers, graduation greetings written on back windows and decals that show how many children are in a family.
A study conducted by the Attorney General’s Office last year found just one instance in which an underage driver was stopped by someone impersonating a police officer.
Now that the law has been upheld, driving instructor Chuck Snyder said he hopes it will be better enforced.
“It’s not a well-liked law, and it doesn’t seem to be enforced too well,” said Snyder, who owns the Voorhees-based Echelon Driving School, which has instructors in Atlantic and Cape May counties. “I have a lot of parents calling me telling me they won’t put the decal on. I tell them, it’s your responsibility.”
Snyder said all of his instructor vehicles have the decals, and that the school tries to encourage people to use them.
But he said many points of the law are not enforced, including limiting passengers. He pointed to the Aug. 20, 2011, crash that killed four Mainland Regional High School football players. The teen driver had too many passengers in the car under the law.
“Somebody should have been enforcing that law,” he said. “Driver’s education teachers at the high school tell the kids this, but you go to a school and every day you see cars loaded with two and three kids.”
Snyder said coaches especially need to be aware of the law.
“These kids are coming to practice with too many kids in the car,” he said. “They’re breaking the law.”
For its part, the South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance has worked to train parents and teens with Share the Keys presentations at high schools in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.
The law, Tullio said, has shown results.
But the justices pointed out their decision was based on the Constitution, not safety.
“It is not our province to determine the wisdom of this statute, or to weigh its value to police officers enforcing (the law) against any safety concerns that are raised by the decal requirement,” the ruling states. “Those arguments may be made before the Legislature, but they have no impact on the court’s analysis today.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Follow Lynda Cohen on Twitter @LyndaCohen