Kyleigh’s Law: Protecting – or Targeting – Young New Jersey Drivers
Sadly, motor-vehicle accidents claim the lives of thousands of young drivers every year in the United States, with driver distraction a major contributing factor. In response, New Jersey became the first state to enact a vehicle decal requirement for young drivers by passing Kyleigh’s Law, which became effective on May 1, 2010.
The red stickers should increase the ability of police officers to monitor young drivers made more conspicuous on the roads. Older drivers will also know to be on alert for inexperienced car maneuvering. In addition to the new decal requirement, Kyleigh’s Law imposes tougher driving restrictions on young permit and probationary license holders in an effort to reduce the number of New Jersey accidents involving teens.
Under the New Jersey Graduated Driver’s License Law and Kyleigh’s Law, a driver under the age of 21 with a special learner’s permit, examination permit or probationary (formerly provisional) driver’s license:
- May not drive between the hours of 11:01 pm to 5:00 am (before Kyleigh’s Law the start time was midnight)
- Must comply with specific restrictions on the number and nature of passengers, varying depending on the permit or probationary license level
- Is prohibited from using any electronic device (handheld or hands-free) while driving
- Must make sure all vehicle occupants wear seat belts
Teen drivers will be fined $100 for violations of Kyleigh’s Law, not insignificant for most young drivers’ budgets.
Kyleigh D’Alessio: The Story Behind The Law
On December 21, 2006, a car driven by 17-year-old Tanner Birch left the roadway and crashed into a tree along Fairview Avenue in Long Valley, killing Birch and 16-year-old athlete and honor student Kyleigh D’Alessio. The crash seriously injured two other young passengers, but they have since recovered.
Birch only possessed a provisional driver’s license (now called a probationary driver’s license) at the time of the accident. In violation of provisional license restrictions, Tanner had three friends riding with him. Some believe that the increased driver distraction probably contributed to the accident.
Following the horrific loss of yet another teenager on a New Jersey road, lawmakers, law-enforcement officers, community members and Kyleigh’s family and friends reinforced the push to do more to protect young drivers. Out of this tragedy came their determination to enact Kyleigh’s Law.
Risks Associated With Young Drivers In New Jersey
On average automobile accidents claim the lives of 6,000 teens and injure approximately 300,000 more every year, according to the New Jersey Teen Driver Study Commission. In 2008 alone, 56,962 teens were involved in car crashes in New Jersey — one crash every 10 minutes. Although teen drivers represent only 6 percent of licensed drivers in New Jersey, they are involved in 13 percent of car accidents in the state. Many people believe that the state must impose additional limitations on young drivers to reduce these risks.
Supporters Argue That Greater Protections Will Save Lives
Some of the most common causes of young-driver accidents, according the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, include overconfidence, distraction, inexperience, speeding and failure to yield. Supporters of Kyleigh’s Law believe that the red decals and the corresponding increased driving limitations will dramatically reduce the number of deaths and injuries among young people on the road.
Opponents Fear Unlawful Discrimination Against Young Drivers
There is a strong and growing movement of New Jersey residents who think, while Kyleigh’s Law is well-intentioned, it creates more problems than it solves. Opponents of Kyleigh’s Law believe that:
- The law helps facilitate young driver profiling and unjustified discrimination by law enforcement, subjecting youth to more scrutiny and traffic stops just because of their age and not because of their actions.
- The law imposes additional and unreasonable restrictions on an entire group, regardless of any consideration of actual conduct.
- The sticker requirement may unreasonably attract the attention of predators looking to prey on the vulnerabilities of young men and women, the very people the bill was designed to protect.
A number of lawyers have filed lawsuits challenging the bill’s constitutionality. At least one New Jersey trial court judge has dismissed such a challenge to Kyleigh’s Law. Judge Robert Brennan of the Morristown Superior Court found the law constitutional and an appropriate state effort to protect the public.
On May 13, while the governor’s ink was barely dry, three New Jersey legislators co-sponsored a bill to repeal the decal requirement. All other parts of Kyleigh’s Law would remain in effect. Co-Sponsor Sean Kean (R-11) said in The Two River Times that many of his constituents vocally oppose the decal and report young drivers have already been harassed. Apparently there is a movement among parents not to require their children to display the decals and take their chances on being fined.
Time Will Tell
While protecting young drivers from car accidents is a good goal, there are many opinions on how to accomplish it. As of May 1, 2010, Kyleigh’s Law is the law in New Jersey. Whether the red-sticker requirement will survive remains to be seen.