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Identifying Teen Drivers Curbs Crashes in N.J., Study Finds

THURSDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- The red decals that young drivers in New Jersey must display on their license plates have prevented more than 1,600 car accidents, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Temple University in Philadelphia also found that the decals help police officers enforce laws that apply to new drivers.

Drivers younger than 21 can be fined $100 for not complying with even one of New Jersey's graduated driver license (GDL) restrictions, including limits on the number of passengers and a ban on driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The decal law, dubbed Kyleigh's Law, went into effect in May 2010 and was named for a teen driver killed in a crash in 2006. Under the law, drivers younger than 21 must display a red decal to make them easier to identify. The researchers said there are roughly 65,000 17-year-old probationary drivers on New Jersey's roads at any given time.

"Other countries have been using decals for decades, but this is the first study to rigorously evaluate their effect on crashes," Allison Curry, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a news release. "The study shows that by taking an additional step to supplement its GDL laws, New Jersey is helping to keep its young drivers safe."

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In conducting the study, published Oct. 23 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the researchers compared teen driver citations and crashes in the two years before the decal law was implemented to the citations and car accidents that occurred after the law's passage. The researchers also estimated the number of crashes that would have occurred had the decal law not been enforced.

The study revealed that in the decal law's first year, police issued 14 percent more citations to new drivers. The researchers also found the rate of crashes involving peer passengers fell by 9 percent.

"The fact that we saw significant crash reductions in New Jersey, a state that already has a strong GDL law and one of the lowest teen crash fatality rates, suggests that implementation of a decal law in states with higher teen crash fatality rates may lead to even more marked reductions," added Curry. "We hope that our study can help other states looking to reduce teen crash rates."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about teen driver safety.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Temple University, news release, Oct. 23, 2012

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