cindy capitani

cindy capitani
Rutherford, New Jersey,
August 11
wordsmith. left the paragraph factory for a private atelier. follow me on Twitter @cindycap

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Editor’s Pick
MAY 26, 2010 10:08AM

New Jersey: Where profiling is not only legal, it’s mandated

Rate: 12 Flag

No, it’s not minorities we’re after – though there are a few towns where DWB (driving while black) will get you pulled over.  Nope. We’re after minors. And it’s perfectly legal.

To make it easier for police to spot youngsters behind the wheel, the law now mandates reflective red stickers. Anyone with a provisional driver’s license or permit must affix $4 decals to their front and rear license plates.


New Jersey’s provisional – or graduated -- license law applies to new drivers under 21 and goes away after a full year of no tickets or accidents. No one is eligible for a license until age 17 so the earliest a teen can expect a “real” license is 18.

The provisional makes it illegal to drive after 11:01 p.m. and before 5 a.m. No more than one passenger is allowed, with the exception of parents, guardians or dependants. Hands-free cell phone devices are also illegal (for fully-licensed drivers, cell phone use is against the law in NJ except with a hands-free device), as are the use of hand-held video games.

When the provisional was enacted 7 or so years ago, no one balked. Studies show teen drivers are more likely to have accidents at night and/or with their cars packed with friends. But the red stickers? Oh, there’s balking.

And flip-flopping. Legislators who voted for the feel-good law, which took effect this month, are now working to overturn it. No one denies the law is steeped in good intentions, and that the story behind it is tragic. The main objection is that this law opens teen drivers – particularly females – to another risk: predators. Many people can look younger than they are behind the wheel, distance and windshields easily disguising wrinkles and other indicators of “older.” But a red sticker? It announces “I’m young, inexperienced and vulnerable.”

Kyleigh D’Alessio, 16, died in an 8:30 p.m. car crash three years ago that also claimed the life of the teen driver and injured two other teen passengers. The 17-year-old driver was violating his provisional license by having too many young people in the car. He slammed into a tree on a 25 mph street, apparently having lost control of his vehicle. Drugs and alcohol weren’t involved.

These accidents happen; inexperienced drivers, particularly teens, are more likely to crash, period. Would a red sticker have prevented Kyleigh’s death? Would a cop have noticed the sticker and the number of heads in the car and pulled them over before they crashed?

The law is well intended but utterly illogical. Forget the argument of the stickers attracting predators. The law is pointless anyway. What if teens – and this is crazy – just don’t use the stickers? The decals are made to be removable so Mom can use the car without having to worry about being pulled over because she has too many PTA friends in the backseat. What if the teen simply removes the sticker? Now he or she can drive after 11 with friends and go by unnoticed. Cops, not seeing a sticker, can assume the driver has a “real” license.

A Rockaway, NJ attorney sued to have the law overturned before it took effect. He said there was no way he’d let his teenager daughter be singled out to rapists. He lost.

Now lawmakers are on board, and some parents are simply not buying the decals, willing to risk a $100 fine rather than having their teen drivers announced as such by way of a decal. I don’t know where all these people were when the campaign to enact this law started 2+ years ago. I’m guessing no one really paid attention except to the horrific details behind the law – nice teens dead -- and a mom in tears over her loss.

My son will be eligible for a license in less than a year. I don’t want these stickers on my license plates. For his safety, my convenience and because it won’t prevent him from being killed in a car accident. The only way to prevent that is simply forbid him to drive – ever. Or be a passenger – even with me! I’m a terrible driver even with 20+ years of experience.

Profiling is profiling. This law should be repealed just on that basis alone.







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Fascinating, Cindy. I marvel at the local sheriff who looked after all of us as teen drivers, watching us make mistakes, picking us up occasionally. At 16 I had a borrowed car filled with friends and too much to drink and took a curve at over 50 mph without slowing down late one night, spinning into the dirt. A thousand guardian angels had to have been watching over us, since this was before we were all wearing shoulder belts.

Any law like this needs to balance the benefits and the risks. It's not clear this one has enough benefits to counter the downside. At 15 we could drive as long as we had a licensed drive present; at 16, we could drive alone. I had friends in Idaho who were legally driving at 14. The stickers do seem to be a form of profiling and fraught with problems; thanks for highlighting this story for us.
This is a dumb way to enforce the law.
Interesting. The unintended consequences to what seem to be reasonable laws are always hard to predict. This seems like a silly law.
despite the stats as to new or young drivers being in more accidents, I agree there are bad drivers of all ages... better training, tougher licensing, more effective punishment/enforcement are all needed for drivers of all ages.

And the "predator" theory is just silly... young drivers aren't 5 year olds fergoshsakes. If they can't defend themselves as well as a 25 year old, they shouldn't be allowed in the malls either...
I don't have a problem with some profiling -- it's done all the time. Just ask a parent, regardless of state of residence, who needs to help his teenage son be insured to drive the family car. The kind of profiling you describe here, however, does seem to be silly. Would they make the same requirement of drivers over 75 years of age who are also more likely to have a fatal accident than someone younger?
Sounds like a good idea at first blush but obviously, lawmakers didn't consider all of the implications.

Not sure I'd call it profiling though and, like Brian, not buying the predator angle either.
There's only one reason to profile - if cops are able to identify those who are DWS (driving while stupid) - we've all had to deal with those morons. If not, leave the rest of us alone.
Yes, at first blush, it seemed like a no-brainer. Not that I thought about the profiling, I thought about the teens that would know what they could or could not do, and when, and that this would maybe help enforce that.

But I take your point - particularly if they're easily removed.

Do not especially buy the predator argument, though.

And since my 15-year-old is now in driver's ed, I'm just trying to figure out a way to keep her from driving at ALL!
Thanks for this Cindy. The more these insanely complicated "provisions" multiply, the more they will be ignored and bypassed. Let me get this straight--it applies to any vehicle the kid drives, they're expected to slap on the sticker, but anyone else can take it off? Jeeesh....there's no way that could be gotten around, eh?

A couple of years back, Ontario tried to implement the kind of laws this sticker is supposed to support--limit passengers and driving times for new drivers. By the time they haggle out all the exceptions--for work, school, school plays, good causes, redheads, whatever-- it's completely meaningless. And our Premier gave one of his only memorable remarks: "When I saw my own kids picketing my house over this, I knew it was time to rethink it."
In Hawaii they also have the provisional license. Of course, my son didn't tell us, I didn't know about the law so he was driving past 11pm for months before we found out. I like the law as it keeps these young kids off the road late at night. But the red sticker is ridiculous and unnecessary.

In Britain, where I learned to drive years ago, learning drivers (with a learner's permit) had big white plastic decals with an L (Learner) on them. Embarrassing? Perhaps. But a great warning to everyone else on the road that this is a brand new driver, give him/her some space. I've often wished we had something like that here.

I guess I fall on the other side of the fence. Driving is a privilege, not a right. I was a teen driver once (and a fairly bad one), and I now have a middle schooler approaching his driving years at breakneck speed. The thought of my son behind the wheel of anything other than a pedal-car sends chills up my spine.

I'm not sure if a red tag would signal a rapist or predator. You're right, it might. I'm also not sure if this law would have the intended effect of keeping teen drivers from doing stupid things. But I applaud the effort to try something to keep teens from killing themselves (and their friends) before good judgment kicks in.
Very interesting your arguments are well constructed and tight. It will give me something to think about...I have two years yet and I hope it will be decided for me though...I don't want my daughter to drive period.
Some people are making light of the predator aspect. One said that if the young people can't take care of themselves as well as a 25 year could, they shouldn't be driving. Um, are you nuts? What 15, 16 or 17 year old has the same knowledge and experience of a 25 year old? Personally I do not want anything on the back of my childrens' cars that is announcing their age. There are too many nuts out there that just might think it would be great fun to play head games with a brand new driver.
Truthfully, I'm so tired of everybody getting on the profiling bandwagon. If parents enacted rules -- no nighttime driving/limited passengers/a set destination/etc. -- and enforced penalties for breaking the rules, maybe there wouldn't be so many accidents caused by teen drivers. When my kids were of driving age, we had so many rules that it even made my head spin keeping track of them, but the kids abided by them and lived to talk about it.

As for the rapist signaling out teens because of the stickers, rapists don't need any arrows to point their way. They have staked out a victim long before they get behind the wheel of a car. I know. My daughter was taken from her bed by a maintenance man who worked in the complex where she lived. He just used the master key to get in.

Instead of lawyers jumping on the "I'll sue" soapbox to make a name for themselves, wouldn't it be nice if, for once, someone just realized the goal is to save lives. In the end, parents have more influence than any law that can be enacted. You want to save a kid's life -- be a involved parent.
I got my license in Indiana at 16. When I graduated from a learner's permit to a license, I was legally allowed to operate vehicles just like my Mom and Dad, that is, I could drive on any public highway anywhere in America, driving anything but a commercial vehicle, piece of farm equipment, or motorcycle, with as many passengers as there were seatbelts, of any age and relation to me, at any time of the day or night, and not be in violation of the terms of my license. The only stipulation that I had that they didn't was that I was legally required to wear glasses or contacts...and of course that had nothing to do with my age.

Indiana has probationary licenses now, though they are less strenuous than New Jersey's. On some level, they make sense. But why not just extend the time required to hold a learner's permit, or make a learner's permit a two-stage event, and make it for everyone? An inexperienced 21-year-old driver can make a fatal error just as easily as an inexperienced 19-year-old one.

Now, here's the thing--there are still states that DON'T have probationary licenses, but states honor each other's driver's licenses. What happens when a kid with one of these breaks the requirements of this license in a state where driving at 1 am in a car filled with friends is perfectly legal?
Or, as they say, follow the money.

They know teens won't use the stickers, or that they'll forget to put them back on the car, or that the stickers will be lost.

Those $100 tickets make money for the state of New Jersey (and the insurance companies who charge higher rates if you get traffic tickets).
I know kathy -- when i think of the things i did behind the wheel when i was a teen. hell, we drove to the shore with a six pack to help pass the time. i was a dumb teen. and my first accident alone, in a parking lot.

i disagree brian, cap, froggy -- no way most teens are as quick-thinking as 25-year-olds. some are, most aren't. age and experience usually makes people a bit more cautious and less impulsive. most teens, i'd argue, would easily fall for an unmarked car with a dashboard emergency light, pull over and think nothing of it. it takes time to learn that tho unmarked cop cars are everywhere, keep driving until you get to a public place. predators know a teen is less likely to think that way. a predator's only motive might be carjacking or money, not rape. but better to hit on a kid than an adult.
thanks for your input OE and Spud.

procopius, i disagree with any profiling. i know ins. co. get away with it all the time. my older son never got into an accident -- i resented he cost me higher insurance rates than if i had a daughter. me and my sister were much worse drivers than one of my two brothers. one bro, however ... good god. he wrecked more cars in 2 years than i've even owned.

joli, if only there could be a DWS -- driving while stupid -- law, haha. i drive at least 60 miles a day -- stupidity on the highway is rampant.

connie, i'd looove to keep my son from driving. just might if he doesn't shape-up. but re: predators. see my comment to brian. there's a concern, at least in jersey where we have a million people per square mile ...

exactly my point bill! teens never try to circumvent laws ... oh, i'm sure teens won't pull them off cars just for prank-sake -- or revenge. teens never do things like that ...
The fact that this legislation went through is absolutely ludicrous. How can a able minded group of people propose a step of law that has so very many enforcement and negative externalities. The concept of profiling is also very interesting in this case. I suppose there is justification by the statistics but by that logic then any profiling would be ethical and then permissible. This was an interesting read. New Jersey needs to get its act together.
It's nothing but a money making scheme for the state.
I propose a law: the No More Laws Named After People law.
I understand profiling to be the application of consequences to an individual because of the perceived behaviour of their group. So, the thinking goes, "blacks are more likely to commit crimes" so let's stop them and investigate. But you are not stopping "them", you are stopping an individual, who should not be paying for what others may do.

It is the application of the general profile to the individual which is wrong, even when the general profile is statistically well-founded.

In the case you discuss (which is a pretty stupid law, as you convincingly show) it is more a matter of the state demanding that people publicize their identity (by age) even when they might prefer to remain silent. While forcing people to wear an armband stating their age is not as intrusive as, say, requiring a Star of David, it does open the wearer up to discriminatory actions--as with the stalkers you mention.

A very interesting post!
Profiling? It's a fact - statistics show that new drivers are almost twice as likely to have a collision in their first two years of driving. In B.C. we now have graduated licensing - with magnetic signs for learning (L) and new (N) drivers.

ICBC felt it was important to notify other drivers that some extra space and time should be given to the novices. The mistake is that your red stickers aren't big enough for other drivers to readily see them.
Marc said:

"Profiling? It's a fact - statistics show that new drivers are almost twice as likely to have a collision in their first two years of driving."

This comment represents a common misunderstanding. As the Supreme Court of Canada has said: "The mere statistical correlation between a group and higher risk cannot suffice to justify discrimination on prohibited grounds. Such correlation accepts the very stereotyping that is deemed unacceptable by human rights legislation: prohibited grounds of discrimination are used to ascribe the characteristics of the group to all individuals in the class. Discrimination based on statistical correlation is simply discrimination in a more invidious form. "
I kind of question the predator angle, myself. If I was looking for young teenagers to prey upon I suspect there'd be an easier way than cruising for red license tags. That said, I also question how effective the law is. How many citations have been issued since it went into effect? I'll bet it's like CT's cell phone law. All the legislators patted themselves on the back...and then nobody enforced it.
it hasn't changed a thing and i know lots of people who just never bothered to get the tags. a horrible teen driving accident happened last week showed the plate had the velcro tabs, but the sticker was missing. another accident, a kid crashed into a tree, only one passenger, early in the day ... he wasn't in violation the "save the crazy teen driver's law." accidents and teenagers unfortunately go hand in hand. my teen will be driving soon and i try not to think about it.