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NJ Decal Study Cited as Most Influential, Findings Point to Reduction in Teen Crashes

Teen driver fatalities increased nationwide during the first half of 2012, but in NJ where teen drivers must display a decal, deaths are down. An influential study confirms their benefit.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the little red decals that permit any probationary driver license holders in New Jersey must affix to their vehicle license plates are once again in the news.  This time, a study examining the first-ever-Graduated Driver License (GDL) identifier in the U.S. was named the most influential research article of 2012 in an online poll

The study, conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, looked at the decal’s impact on enforcement of New Jersey’s GDL program and crashes involving probationary (first year) drivers.  Linking the state’s licensing and motor vehicle crash databases from January 1, 2008 through May 31, 2011, the researchers compared monthly rates of GDL-related citations and crashes for probationary drivers in the two years before the decal took effect and in the year after. 

This is the first scientific look at the effect of the use of decals on crash rates, even though they’ve been used in other countries (e.g., Australia, Canada, England, Japan) for many years.  The findings are significant.  During the first year of the decal requirement in New Jersey (referred to as Kyleigh’s Law),  GDL-related citations issued to probationary drivers increased 14 percent.  The rate of police-reported crashes among the same group declined 9 percent.  The study also found that multiple-vehicle crashes decreased by 8 percent and crashes where a teen was transporting his peers dropped 9 percent.  But perhaps most important is the CHOP finding that an estimated 1,624 crashes involving probationary drivers were prevented.

That’s  “equivalent to the number of students attending a large high school,” says Allison Curry, PhD, MPH, lead author and director of epidemiology at CIRP at CHOP.  “New Jersey youth and other road users are safer as a result of the decals.”

New Jersey has one of the most comprehensive GDL programs in the country and one of the lowest teen driver crash fatality rates. Even so, the state was able to achieve additional reductions in crashes with a decal provision as part of its GDL.  Researchers at CHOP suggest that states with higher teen crash rates than New Jersey might realize even greater gains from including decal provisions as part of their GDL programs because they have more room for improvement.

CHOP’s recommendation may prompt action by other states. A new report  released on February 26 by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that teen driver fatalities in the U.S. increased during the first half of 2012.  New Jersey, however, was one of 17 states where teen fatalities decreased.  The report’s author Dr. Allan Williams attributes much of the increase to the fact that the benefit of state GDL laws may be leveling off, since many of these laws have been in place for some time. 

Would a decal make a difference? Clearly its having a positive impact on enforcement of the GDL restrictions in New Jersey. When police have a tool to help them enforce the proven provisions of graduate driver licensing, teens are more likely to comply lessening their crash-risk.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

been there March 06, 2013 at 01:55 PM
DMV won't even allow your child to attempt their behind the wheel test without the red decals.
been there March 06, 2013 at 02:02 PM
I was not a proponent of the decals , but I do think they have proven to be successful in making new drivers more cognizant and not as risk taking. I think that is what we are seeing in the results from this study. Do the new drivers feel like they have a bullseye on them..... Yes, .... Are crashes down ... Yes..... If they prevent a parent from loosing a child to a senseless accident bc the risk taking is taking away by the fear of scrutiny then this the decals are successful. They are teenagers and feel indestructible and I am not afraid to tell anyone that too many parents want to be their kids friends and WON'T hold them accountable like the previous generations parents did. As a sceptic, keep the decals
Walter O. March 06, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Totally agree with your comments. We would be better off disabling texting and emailing capabilities. I would go a step further and disable cell phone talking unless its mounted or Bluetooth. I hate to see women drivers with their cell phone's pressed up against their ears on the road! Not to say men don't do the same, I have only seen women. Not a fan of these red stickers, lots of problems driving through Mendham for kids with stickers on their cars. Cops have little to do and pull kids over for no reason. Not to mention creeps out there targeting young female drivers. Just my opinion...
Reality Chuck March 06, 2013 at 06:10 PM
You are missing the whole point of the nonsense of statistics especially by gov't to justify a program. I like and believe in the GDL but think the sticker component is nonsense. Why not also measure the number of teenagers carjacked with stickers against those without, and I'm sure it will prove that the sticker stops carjacking too...Relax my friend, there is no such thing as an "I'm not drunk" sticker.
In Touch March 14, 2013 at 08:59 PM
The decals are ridiculous. I won't let my GDL driver have them on the car other than to take the road test. I don't believe the survey measured the usefulness of the decals. There probably was no information on whether or not the decals were even on the cars in accidents. The restrictions regarding # of passengers in the car and the driving time restrictions are important, as are wearing seat belts and not using a cell phone to talk or text. The mother of Kyleigh stated that she was unaware of the passenger restrictions for new drivers. So perhaps the uproar over the decals made more parents aware of the restrictions.

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