The GDL: Beneficial or Biased

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

It’s midnight and the parents’ of the children you are babysitting for have not gotten home yet. You start to panic, wondering whether you will be able to make it home without being noticed by a police officer.  You are driving past the J-Lot and see two of your friends walking in the rain, yet cannot pick them up and drive them the two blocks to school because your sister is in the car. You are asked to drive a carpool to practice, yet are unable to help out the team because your parent will not be in the car with you.

All of these situations, which have been experienced countless times by myself and my peers, and can be attributed to New Jersey’s Graduated Driver’s License system, a set of driving rules implemented in 2001 with the hopes of providing new drivers with road experience in safe, controlled environments. Restrictions are placed on licensed drivers between the ages of 17 and 18, and require that drivers place a red “reflectorized decal” on their license plates and only drive between 5:00 AM and 11:01 PM. Additionally, only parents, guardians, and dependents are allowed to be unlimited passengers, and only one other passenger may ride in the car. Contrary to popular belief, siblings are not included as dependents, and instead are included under the “one other passenger” category, complicating things for families with more than two children. More than one passenger can be in the car if a parent or guardian is present, however. All of these restrictions are paired with the fact that New Jersey requires drivers to be 17 before getting their license, compared to 16 in most other states.

While these rules are well-intentioned, and have ultimately led to lower crash rates in teens, they are highly unpopular among young drivers. Most young people find the rules unnecessary, and from talking to others, the most controversial aspect of the GDL program seems to be the reflective license decals, which make all newly licensed drivers stand out like a target. The stickers insinuate an inherent distrust in teen drivers: by placing indicators of age on a car, it caters to the assumption that the majority to all of teenage drivers are doing something wrong. Without the stickers, people driving normally will not be looked at by police, yet with the stickers, drivers may be stopped simply due to their age. For example, if one is driving responsibly without stickers, a police officer will not even look twice at them for having multiple passengers in the car or driving after 11:01 PM. However, a driver with GDL stickers will likely be stopped if either of these situations are happening, even if they are not violating any traffic laws. There have also been reported cases of police officers pulling students over and then proceeding to give them tickets for minor things, such as having rear view mirror decals. By putting one’s age on their car, there are also dangers of being targets for predators.

Statistics have shown that the GDL system overall has been beneficial, resulting in lower crash rates and fewer fatalities among teen drivers. However, to teens themselves, the rules seem a bit much, especially the use of mandatory special stickers that alert anyone and everyone of the driver’s age. Most people would agree that if a driver isn’t breaking a law, they should not be targeted by the police, yet reflective stickers allow for targeting to happen without explicit reason. While the Graduated Driver's License program as a whole has proven itself to be incredibly necessary and helpful, the stickers have got to go!