New Jersey: Where profiling is not only legal, itâ€™s mandated
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.