Preventing Teen Crashes with Stickers

By Scott Burris

Graduated Drivers’ License Laws have apparently been a major success in reducing crashes among novice drivers. (A couple of studies have suggested the laws might just be postponing crashes, but so far that hypothesis remains unproved, and the weight of expert opinion seems to be that the association is spurious.)  There has been a weak link in enforcement, though, which is that in the dark of night and flow of traffic, police officers can’t always spot an underage driver out past the curfew or chauffeuring too many passengers.

Enter the decal.  A number of European and Asian countries require new drivers to decorate their car with a special decal indicating probationary status. That way it is easy for police to detect possible GDL violations.

In 2010, New Jersey became the first state to require the decal, and this week a PHLR study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found robust evidence of seriously positive impact.

Allison E. Curry of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and her colleagues looked at crashes and tickets in New Jersey before and after the law was enacted. In the first year after the law was passed, there was a 14% increase in the GDL citation rate and a 9% reduction in crashes. In terms of human life, the authors estimate that 1,624 young probationary drivers were spared an accident. (Read the paper online here.)

The GDL decal looks like a winner, and therefore a critical opportunity for public health law.

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