Stickers identifying teen drivers not a good idea

The legislature and governor of New Jersey have lost their collective common sense, which is to say they are politicians. The former passed and the latter signed a law set to take effect in 2010 that will require drivers age 21 and younger to put stickers on the bumpers of their cars letting fellow drivers know they are road hazards. The exact wording of said sticker has not been determined.

The research is unequivocal: Teenage drivers are a generally dangerous bunch. A few supporting facts (from an online article

Ÿ Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers.

Ÿ When driver fatality rates are calculated on the basis of estimated annual travel, teen drivers (16 to 19 years old) have a fatality rate that is about four times higher than the fatality rate among drivers 25 through 69 years old.

Ÿ Sixty-five percent of teen passenger deaths occur when another teenager is driving.

I have long been a proponent of not letting youngsters acquire driving privileges until two conditions have been satisfied: age 18 and a high school diploma. When I ask parents, “Would you allow your child to ingest a substance that is not inherently toxic, but for unexplained reasons proves fatal to one child in, say, 10,000?”

No parent has ever answered in the affirmative.

“So why then are you allowing your 16-year-old to drive a car?” I then ask, and the hemming and hawing begins.

Laws extending driving privileges to 16-year-olds were established when cars were far less powerful, roads were far less crowded, and 16-year-olds were far more mature (and please, 16-year-olds, don’t waste your time writing me letters of protest, confirming my point).

Nonetheless, there is no public good to be had by requiring young people to advertise on the bumpers of their cars that they are young. I seriously doubt that other people, so informed, are going to give said drivers wider berth. And if they do, the Law of Unintended Consequences is very likely to kick in. The young driver, having more space around him, may increase his or her speed. Or change lanes. Or take the opportunity to take in the sunset. You get my point, I’m sure.

Then there’s the predator thing. The research clearly indicates that teenage girls are at greatest risk for sexual predation. As a father, I would not want my teenage daughter driving around with a bumper sticker announcing her vulnerability. There are all sorts of ways of persuading or forcing people to pull over, and if this once happened to my wife (who realized, in the nick of time, what the individual, a male, probably had in mind), then it can certainly happen to a youngster who is considerably more naive.

And if danger to others is the issue, then why require “ageist” bumper stickers only of the younger set? Why not require them of the other age group that constitutes the second most statistical danger to other drivers — the elderly? Or how about requiring bumper stickers of people who are short, have been diagnosed with psychiatric or sleep disorders, have restless leg syndrome, a child or children in the car with them, are confused as to the meaning of “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear,” are dyslexic or directionally impaired, put on makeup or use their cell phones while driving, or cannot resist looking at themselves in mirrors?

Imagine the public good of bumper stickers reading “Beware! Narcissist Driver!”

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site at