Young drivers in New Jersey will have to continue displaying a red decal on their license plates, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case that has already spawned a state-commissioned study on whether the decals constitute an invitation to predators.
The high court ruled unanimously that requiring the decals doesn't violate federal privacy laws or constitute unreasonable search and seizure. An appeals court had ruled similarly last year in a challenge brought by two Morris County parents.
"A driver's age group constitutes neither 'highly restricted personal information' nor 'personal information'" within the meaning of current federal law, the justices wrote. The decals don't give rise to unreasonable search and seizure because they are plainly visible and don't require police officers to stop and search a vehicle, they wrote.
"I don't think statistically there's any proof demonstrated whatsoever that there's a correlation between predators and young people driving," said Joseph Bell, an attorney who argued on behalf of the mother of a teenager killed in a crash while riding in a car driven by another teen. "The court said there was no substance to that argument."
New Jersey was the first state to require the decals for young drivers. The law is named for 16-year-old Kyleigh D'Alessio, who died in that 2006 crash.
The law obligates New Jersey drivers ages 16 to 20 to have a $4 pair of detachable fluorescent red decals on their front and rear license plates during a yearlong probationary license period.
From the program's beginning in April 2010 through this July, the Motor Vehicle Commission had sold about 831,000 pairs of the decals, commission spokeswoman Elyse Coffey said Monday. It isn't clear how many are actually being displayed on license plates, however; failure to display the decals carries a $100 fine, but Kean and others question whether the law is being strictly enforced.
According to the state Judiciary, police have issued 4,657 tickets for decal violations since the program began.