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The driver’s license. It is a coveted symbol of freedom for most young adults – the rite of passage that allows teens to stop relying on their parents so much and get a taste of independence, then the state of New Jersey hands over an official license with their name to back it up. However, in recent years, New Jersey has pulled a metaphorical “not-so-fast” on these young drivers. In response to some shocking statistics that linked young drivers to a high number of accidents, the State of New Jersey implemented the Graduated Driver’s License program (or GDL) and imposed hard-hitting restrictions on drivers between the ages of 17 and 21 in their first year and a half on the open road.

The GDL program was put in place to introduce driving privileges in phases, for which there was an evident need for those in their late teens and early twenties. According to studies performed in 2009 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, eight teens between the ages of 16-19 die everyday from motor vehicle injuries, and first-time drivers in that age group are also four times as likely to crash as older first-time drivers. It was also found that driving at night, and/or having passengers in the vehicle increase a young driver’s likelihood of being involved in an accident dramatically. Taking these factors into consideration, New Jersey brought into law the “Probationary License”, commonly referred to as “The Cinderella License”, which puts limitations on any driver receiving their license between the ages of 17 and 21. During the first six months of driving, the driver must be accompanied in the front seat by a supervising adult driver who is at least 21 years of age and possesses a valid New Jersey driver’s license with 3 years of driving experience. After six months, the driver may operate their vehicle without supervision. However the probationary period still mandates that the driver only allow one passenger in the car outside of a parent or guardian and must be off the road between the hours of 11PM and 5AM. After one year of unsupervised restricted driving, the probationary period is lifted and the young driver will graduate to a basic (unrestricted) driver license.

Perhaps one of the most controversial requirements of the probationary license is a mandatory red decal that must be placed on the front and back license plates of any vehicle being driven by a young first-time driver during their probationary period. The requirement was put into place so police officers could easily determine whether teens are violating the state driving curfew and passenger restrictions. However, some have felt it is less about protecting the young drivers and more about profiling them. Some young drivers believe officers are more likely to pull over vehicles with the red decal for reasons outside of the probationary license requirements, and some have even argued these decals effectively broadcast to the general public that the driver is under the age of 21, therefore making the teens easy targets for criminal and sexual predators. However, the state of New Jersey contends these decals are necessary to enforce the probationary period for new drivers and maintain their safety.

Whether you agree or not that the Graduated Driver License’s program is an essential step for young drivers, as stated by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission – driving is a privilege. And with a “no plea down to zero points” policy for any drivers who receive tickets while still going through the GDL program, the privilege can easily be taken away. An accumulation of 3 points or more on their driver’s license will land new drivers in a driver improvement class, where their participation will mean the difference between keeping their license and having it revoked. While young drivers now may not feel that same overwhelming sense of freedom as those before them as they jump behind the wheel for the first time and ride off into the sunset, these laws were put in place to make sure young drivers stay safe and keep driving.

Andrew J. D’Arcy is a trial lawyer and partner with the law firm D’Arcy Johnson Day. D’Arcy Johnson Day is a premier New Jersey litigation law firm, specializing in all areas of injury-based claims. For more information on this article or other topics, please call us toll free at 1-866-327-2952.

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