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New Jersey's license plate decal requirement for graduated driver licenses: attitudes of parents and teenagers, observed decal use, and citations for teenage driving violations

McCartt, Anne T.; Oesch, Nathan J.; Williams, Allan F.; Powell, Tara C.
Traffic Injury Prevention
February 2013

Objectives: On May 1, 2010, New Jersey implemented a law requiring teenagers with learner’s permits or probationary licenses to display reflective decals on the front and rear license plates when they drive. The current study examined attitudes of parents and teenagers toward this requirement, use of decals, and reported violations and police enforcement of the graduated driver license law.
Method: Statewide telephone surveys of representative samples of parents and teenagers were conducted in February to April 2010 and March to June 2011. Use of decals among probationary license holders was observed at 4 high schools in fall 2010 and in spring 2011 and hand-out surveys were distributed. Data on citations issued for violations of the graduated driver license law were obtained.
Results: When interviewed in spring 2011, a large majority of parents of probationary license holders, parents of learner’s permit holders, and teenagers with probationary licenses disapproved of decals for probationary licenses. About two thirds of both sets of parents and about half of teenagers disapproved of decals for learner’s permits. Support for decals for both license types declined significantly from 2010 to 2011. For parents and teenagers alike, opposition was mainly attributed to concern about identifying and/or targeting teenage drivers by other drivers, predators, or police. In 2011, 77 percent of parents of probationary license holders said that their teenagers had decals for the vehicles driven most often; 46 percent said their teenagers always used decals. Fifty-six percent of parents of learner’s permit holders said that their teenagers had decals for the vehicles driven most often; 37 percent said that their teenagers always used decals. Teenagers’ reported violations of license restrictions either increased or were similar in 2011 compared to 2010. Observed rates of decal use by probationary license holders at high schools in spring 2011 ranged from 24 to 64 percent. The number of statewide citations for teenage licensing law violations doubled in the year after the decal requirement took effect compared to the prior year. Excluding decal violations, citations increased by 52 percent.
Conclusions: Early examination of New Jersey’s decal requirement found widespread opposition, primarily due to concerns about identifying/targeting teenage drivers, though first-hand reports of such incidents were very rare. Many teenagers do not use the decals. Increased issuance of citations for violations of the teenage licensing lawsuggests that decals are facilitating police enforcement. However, based on teenagers’ self-reports, the requirement does not appear to have achieved the ultimate goal of increased compliance.