Cars travel on the crowded New Jersey turnpike. Reuters/Mike Segar

In the U.S., only New Jersey mandates this practice.

Though the green and yellow sticker on the front and rear bumpers of some cars in Japan is pleasing to the eye, it’s not for decoration. Japanese law requires beginning drivers to affix the decals for a year after obtaining a license. Countries such as Australia, India, and Ireland similarly mandate that newbie drivers’ vehicles sport an identifying symbol, such as a sticker with the letter L (for learner) in the middle. The idea is to promote safety by encouraging fellow motorists to give the marked cars a little more space.

Japan’s wakaba (“young leaf”) sticker signifies a new driver.

In the U.S., only New Jersey requires such a mark. Kyleigh’s Law, named after a 16-year-old who was killed in a crash in 2006, obliges anyone under 21 who is in the first year of a driver’s license in the state to display a small, square red sticker on their front and back plates. Those who do not may be fined $100.

By making young drivers’ cars recognizable to others, including police, the thinking behind such laws is that decals not only warn motorists, but also compel youth to follow rules associated with their beginners’ licenses. In New Jersey, these include a ban on driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and riding with only one other passenger unless a parent or guardian is present.

The red decals can be removed when a young driver is not behind the wheel. (New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission)

When Kyleigh’s Law took effect in 2010, it caused an uproar. Teenagers didn’t want to display the decals, deeming them uncool, and many parents were convinced that the stickers would either expose their children to police profiling or make them targets for predators. Lawyer Gregg Trautmann, who failed to rescind the law in a New Jersey Supreme Court case, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I think girls become targeted by rapists and creeps.”

But in the intervening years, there has been no real evidence of incidents of harassment or targeting. What’s more, a study by a group of researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests that the decals are helping. The study, published last year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that the stickers reduced crashes by 9.5 percent during their first two years of use. This represents nearly 3,200 fewer accidents.

The study’s weakness is that the percentage of young drivers who did not comply with the decal law is unknown. “There is definitely more we need to learn,” Allison Curry, the head researcher, said in a statement when the study was released. “The end result, however, is that many fewer teens crashed.”

Whatever theoretical risks U.S. states may be weighing when it comes to adopting similar laws, it’s clear they also need to consider the potential benefit of saving a lot of lives. As Curry told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We think other states should at least consider adding decals.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    The Story Behind the Housing Meme That Swept the Internet

    How a popular meme about neoliberal capitalism and fast-casual architecture owned itself.

  2. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.
    Maps

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  3. A toxic site in Niagara Falls, New York, seen from above.
    Environment

    The Toxic 'Blank Spots' of Niagara Falls

    The region’s “chemical genies” of the early 20th century were heralded as reaching into the future to create a more abundant life for all. Instead, they deprived future generations of their health and well-being.

  4. Transportation

    Europe's Intercity Bus Juggernaut Is Rolling Into the U.S.

    Flixbus is like the Uber of long-haul road travel. Could it reboot the American coach business?

  5. A collage of postcards and palms trees of the Florida shore
    Environment

    The Archaeologists Saving Miami's History From the Sea

    As the water level rises, more than 16,000 historic sites across Florida are at risk of being drowned by waves. In Miami-Dade County, researchers are working to keep history on solid ground.