NASCAR Inspires New Jersey To Identify Teen Drivers with New 'Rookie Stripe'

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IMarch 25, 2010

In NASCAR, rookie drivers are designated with a yellow stripe on their back bumpers, serving to warn the other drivers on the track that this is a "new" driver. 

This rookie driver designation has now come to New Jersey, which just passed a new state law putting red decals on license plates of teen drivers.

The red reflective decals will be required for all "new" teen drivers in New Jersey as of May 1st. 

State officials said this is the first law of its kind, designating "rookie" drivers in an effort to warn other drivers.  The new law also assists the police in enforcing curfews and other requirements of the graduated teen license.

Sadly, the law is called "Kyleigh's Law" in honor of Kyleigh D'Alessio, a 16-year-old from Long Valley, N.J.  Kyleigh was killed in a car accident in December 2006 while riding with three other teens.

"We need Kyleigh's Law," said Kyleigh's mother, Donna Weeks.  "I hope this generation of teen drivers are more aware of the dangers against them and their friends."

New Jersey's version of the NASCAR rookie strip will take effect to coincide with the season of proms and graduations. The decals will be required for all drivers in the state who are under the age of 21.

The decals will be affixed by Velcro on the upper left corner of the front and rear license plates.  They will cost $4 a pair and will be available at New Jersey's motor vehicle stations beginning April 12th.

"The decals will also provide police with probable cause to stop people suspected of breaking motor vehicle laws specifically aimed at younger drivers," New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow said. 

"For example, police will be able to pull over cars displaying the decals on the road late at night or using any kind of cell phone, two violations of the state's probationary license laws," Dow said.

"The decals may make teens think twice," Dow continued.  "They won't be as likely to use their iPod or use their cell phone."

Unlike the NASCAR rookie stripe, which is yellow, New Jersey's rookie driver decals were originally going to be orange, which was Kyleigh's favorite color.  The color was changed to red, however, on advice from authorities who felt that red is more visible.

"Cops have trouble identifying young drivers," Police Chief Robert Coulton said.  He acknowledged that police often have a hard time knowing who was breaking probationary license rules and said the red decals would assist in this effort.

While NASCAR's rookie stripe can be ripped off only once a driver has completed a year on the track, New Jersey's rookies can actually take the decals off.  They do, however, risk a $100 fine for doing so before they get their full driver's license.

Some in New Jersey have been opposed to the decal, calling it the "Scarlet Letter" of age discrimination.  That case was even taken to court, however, Judge Robert Brennan dismissed it earlier this month.

In the meantime, Kyleigh's family is celebrating as the new decal will serve as a reminder of her death and her life. 

"Kyleigh was smart and a good athlete," said her 7-year-old brother Tyler.  "She was the person I would always look up to and try to be like."

New Jersey's version of the rookie stripe will indeed serve as a reminder not only of Kyleigh but also of the safety and care needed for all young drivers. 

There is no doubt that, just as with NASCAR drivers who cannot wait to rip off their rookie stripes, New Jersey wants all teens to be safe until they too have that same privilege of ripping off their rookie red decals.

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