On May 1, a new law goes into effect in New Jersey that requires provisional drivers under 21 to put a red sticker on their license plate. The law, nicknamed Kyleigh's Law, after Kyleigh D'Alessio who died in a car accident in 2006, is purported to make it easier for the police to enforce graduated driver's license provisions on new drivers. The law is designed to give the police probable cause to pull over vehicles displaying the red sticker. The law also includes changes to New Jersey's already fairly strict requirements for young people with provisional driver's licenses, stopping individuals under 21 from driving past 11 pm instead of midnight and stopping drivers from using all cell phones (whether hands free or not). This law also increases restrictions on the passengers a young driver can have in the car. This is the first state in the country to attempt to require new, young drivers to display a special tag or notice on their car identifying them as such.
This law raises a number of important questions, some of which are rather unsettling. First of all, why are only new drivers under 21 required to display this sticker? No evidence exists that shows new drivers over 21 are safer than other new drivers. If this law were about safety then surely all new drivers should have the same restrictions and have the same red sticker on the back of their car. Proponents of this law cite Canada which has a similar identification for new drivers, but their law applies to all new drivers, not just new drivers under 21. The law is similar in Europe where new drivers, of any age, have to display some special marking. There is zero justification for singling out new, young drivers. None.
The plan was for the sticker to put a bullseye on the back of young people's cars making them easier to pull over. The unsettling question we need to ask, is who else out there would like to easily identify young people driving alone? Our mind can conjure up many stalkers, criminals and sexual predators who could use this marking system to their advantage. Do we really want to put such a target on the cars of our youth?
New Jersey attorney, Gregg Trautmann, filed suit against the law hoping to stop it going into effect due to its safety concerns. His case lost the first round but he is working on an appeal.
Such concerns aren't unjustified fears, in the 90's a law in Florida requiring rental cars to display stickers identifying them as rentals led to the murders of nine people in the state. Criminals used those stickers to identify tourists who were often unsure of their surroundings and ran them off the road with the intent to rob them, or worse.
Because of concerns over the dangerous and discriminatory implications of this law it has attracted a storm of criticism before it has even gone on the books. Nearly 30,000 have joined a group called "NJ Teens Against "Kyleigh's Law" Teen Driving Restrictions" and over 9,000 members have joined a Facebook group named "Kyleigh's Law lets creepers know I'm young and alone." Thousands more have joined one of the other 14 Facebook pages created to oppose this law. The members of many threaten non-compliance with this law. The comment sections of news websites are overwhelmed with passionate comments of young people and parents upset over this law.
Lawmakers are starting to take notice. Assemblymen Robert Schroeder and Michael Patrick Carroll are already planning to introduce legislation to repeal the law. Carroll, who initially voted for the law, hadn't considered the law's negative implications for the safety of youth. He now is working to oppose it and has been impressed with the public outcry against it.
My organization, the National Youth Rights Association, is calling upon all drivers over 21 in New Jersey to voluntarily put a red sticker on their license plate as a sign of solidarity with all the individuals under 21. Some have described our efforts as "sabotage" but we see it as showing support and solidarity with young people who have been singled out in such an egregious manner. Letting them know they aren't alone and that people of all ages oppose this law. That's the point of it. If, however, it causes some sexual predator to think twice before following a car with a red sticker on it, then all the better.
This scarlet letter sticker is the most striking and unique part of this law, but there are questions about its other provisions as well. The law bans provisional license holders under 21 from using a cell phone entirely, no matter if they are talking, texting, or using a hands-free device. Obviously the last thing New Jersey wants a young girl to do after a creepy van spots the sticker and starts following her is to call for help.
Talking on a cell phone while driving is certainly dangerous, it slows reaction times and distracts them from the road, but there is zero evidence that it is uniquely dangerous for young people. In fact studies show that a young person talking on a cell phone while driving is no different than a senior citizen not on a cell phone. Young people have naturally better reaction times and, no surprise, are far more accustomed to talking on the cell phone than grandpa. If there is anyone in this world who I'd want to drive and talk on a cell phone it is a teenager. Why then is New Jersey singling them out for this ban? Why also is Congress singling them out as well?
If this law was remotely based on science or on reality then all drivers, regardless of age, would not be allowed to drive while talking on a cell phone. Moreover, if we are so frightened by the reduced reaction times of teens on phones, then we should pass a law banning all people over 65 from driving period.
Of course as restrictions multiply ever faster on young drivers, our dangerous grandparents are left untouched. Despite reduced eye sight no law restricts the hours they can drive. Despite their problems with focus and attention, no law restricts how many passengers in their car. Despite their problems with reflexes and reaction times, no law restricts whether they can use a cell phone. Why? Why does every feel-good, do-nothing law seeking to "keep us safe" only ever target young people? Because senior citizens vote.
While Kyleigh's Law is just one example of the recent trend of lumping 18-20-year-old adults in with teens, there is still one adult right they continue to enjoy - the right to vote. For all those out there opposed to this onerous new law, I encourage you to exercise this right and vote the bums out.
Follow Alex Koroknay-Palicz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kpalicz