By Sharon Kay
An estimated 1,600 car crashes were prevented in New Jersey last year because a law required novice drivers to display a red decal on their license plates, says a study published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
New Jersey's Graduate Driver Licensing (GDL) law is the first to require drivers younger than 21 to display that they are probationary. It is nicknamed "Kyleigh's Law" after a teen driver who was killed in a 2006 New Jersey crash.
Comparing teen driver citations and crashes the two years before the decal law went into effect on May 1, 2010 to crashes and citations the year after the law was passed, researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia found a significant change. Police citations increased 14 percent, and researchers calculated that the law prevented 1,624 crashes among New Jersey's 65,000 17-year-old probationary drivers.
GDL laws carry various restrictions in each state, including special rules and fines for new drivers. Restrictions in New Jersey include a limit to the number of passengers allowed in the car, a ban on cell phone and other electronic use, and a driving curfew between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
New Jersey already had one of the strongest GDL laws, and one of the lowest teen-crash fatality rates. The new decal law shows that even more crashes may now be prevented, says Allison Curry, PhD, lead author of the study. "We hope that our study can help other states looking to reduce teen crash rates."
A 2012 Governor's Highway Safety Association report says that six states -- Kentucky, Michigan, Alaska, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Carolina -- have considered decal legislation, but no bills have been approved.
Dr. Curry suggests that parents use GDL laws as a guide to keep their children safe on the roads. "Keep the number of passengers to no more than one, limit nighttime driving to before 10 p.m., always prohibit cell phone use while driving, and insist on seat belts for every occupant on every drive.