Teen Drivers in New Jersey Balk at 'Scarlet Letter' Decals

Filed under: In The News, Teen Culture




New Jersey law requires drivers under the age of 21 to identify themselves with red decals on their license plates.

But many young people see the decals as scarlet letters, and, ABC News reports, more than half of them simply ignore the law.

Haley Callaway, 17, of Montclair, N.J., tells the network the law is not only embarrassing, but dangerous.

"It labels me as a minor," Callaway tells ABC News. "Someone could stalk me in a parking lot, then follow me home."

State legislators passed the law after 16-year-old driver Kyleigh D'Alessio died in a 2006 car accident along with two others.

The law has been in effect less than two months, and there are already bills in both houses of the Legislature to repeal it.

Law enforcement officials say repealing the law would be a bad idea. Even though it's in its infancy, police are saying it has cut fatal accidents involving teen drivers by 25 percent, ABC News reports. In addition to the new sticker requirement, New Jersey has had a Graduated Driver License program for nearly 10 years, which includes a driving curfew and puts limits on the number and ages of passengers allowed in a provisional driver's car.

Nonetheless, police admit they have trouble enforcing the program, ABC News reports. It is difficult to guess whether a young-looking driver is breaking the law by driving after curfew or ferrying too many young passengers.

Gone are the days when kids who got their driver's licenses when they were 16 could hit the road with the same freedoms as everyone else. Now every state, with the exception of North Dakota, has laws that dole out driving rights gradually until a person is 21, and there is talk in Congress of standardizing state requirements.

Meanwhile, New Jersey is the first state to attempt to physically mark young drivers for law enforcement.

"We could not afford to lose one more teen to a car crash," Pam Fischer, director of the state's division of highway traffic safety and chair of a commission that devised the decal law after studying the problem over six months, tells ABC News.

Tom Goodwin, a Republican state senator behind a bill to repeal the law, tells ABC News the law is a case of "good intentions, but unintended consequences."

Priscilla McAleney agrees. The mother to teen driver Abby McAleney, she tells the network her daughter has her blessing in ignoring the law.

"I just don't want somebody seeing her car in the parking lot," McAleney tells ABC News. "There's a 50/50 chance of it being a 17-year-old girl, and they can look in the car and tell it's a 17-year-old girl by what's in the car.''

Related: New Teen Driving Act Proposed to Help Save Lives

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.