NJ DWI News: Will New Law Increase Police Focus on Young Drivers, Drunk or Otherwise?

A recently passed law requires drivers under the age of 21 to place a red sticker on their vehicle’s license plates. While the intent of the law appears to be a good-hearted attempt at traffic safety, as a New Jersey DWI defense attorney I tend to side with those claiming the $4 sticker will only invite unwarranted scrutiny and potential discrimination against a segment of the driving public.

When it comes to drunk driving enforcement, New Jersey State Police and municipal police officers are always on the lookout for motorists who may be operating their vehicles while impaired due to alcohol, prescription drugs or controlled dangerous substances (CDS). Young drivers who exhibit traffic behavior suggesting inebriation could quite possibly by singled out due to that red mark on their license plate.

According to an editorial, the new law that took effect on May 1 will must likely lead to discrimination against young drivers which probably wouldn’t happen without a red dot. According to the author, New Jersey is one of the top ten safest states for teenage drivers. Referring to the 2001 law that established a curfew for teenagers and significantly decreased the teen driver accident rates, the editorial asks if there is any good reason to put another law into effect.

The law calls for $100 fine for any young driver who does not have the sticker on their plates. A percentage of students across the Garden State may feel that police will be prejudiced when deciding whom to pull over. While teenage driver accident rates due to distracted driving, alcohol use, speeding and other causes may be reduced somewhat, the law is likely to cause a lot of controversy.

Part of the uproar comes from those who point out that 18-year-olds are considered legal adults, so the law tends to separate these individuals from 21 and older adults. By 18, many students are heading off to college, living in dorms or apartments and are essentially functioning on their own. The author asks why this law should affect this small group of legal adults whose just happen to be younger than 21. This would result in subjecting adults to being treated as if they were still teenagers, when all of the while society continues to tell them to just grow up.

There are other concerns, such as making under-21 drivers more distinguishable to pedophiles, sex offenders and rapists who may tend to seek out younger people — the red-dot sticker would only make it that much easier for criminals to prey on these individuals. The argument is whether or not traffic accident rates go down, will we see an increase in crimes against these younger people, such as rape and sexual assault.

Ultimately, the question is whether or not the effects of the law itself will be worse than the claimed improvements in traffic safety. With the law in effect, only time will tell if New Jersey’s lawmakers have made the right decision.

A red dot on cars, HSJ.org, May 4, 2010

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