New drivers would have to practice for a year before getting their licenses and would be required to display hang tags on their vehicles identifying them as provisional drivers under a package of bills that gets its first public hearing this week.
The bills incorporate the recommendations of the Teen Driving Safety panel, a group commissioned by Gov. Jon S. Corzine to look into ways to cut down on teen driving accidents and fatalities.
"We all want to make sure our children are safe and they are driving in a way that makes sure they come back alive. This is a package of bills that helps that," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who chairs the Transportation Committee where the bills will be considered on Thursday. "There is no substitution for education and training. This is in addition to that."
Crashes involving teen drivers numbered 59,072 in New Jersey last year, with 35 teen drivers and 45 passengers dying in the wrecks. Nationally, 3,108 teen drivers died as a result of traffic accidents last year, down by about 300 from the prior year, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows.
Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, who is sponsoring some of the measures, said the governor's group recommended ways to strengthen the state's Graduated Driver's License program, taking into account research showing that teens tend to get into accidents at night and when they have other teenagers in the car.
"Legislation is the art of trial and error," he said. "We frequently come up with great ideas that don't go far enough or don't work properly. The graduated driver's license is an example of that. The intention behind the Graduated Driver's License was perfect. The implementation left a little to be desired."
All 50 states have graduated driver's licenses whereby new drivers start with a learner's permit then progress to a restricted or unrestricted license. Restricted licenses limit driving at night and the number of passengers that can be in the vehicle. Many states require a minimum number of hours behind the wheel before a young driver can get an unrestricted license.
In New Jersey, the process starts with a learner's permit issued at age 16.
The legislation under consideration would, among other things:
-- Require drivers to have a learner's permit for a full year before being eligible for a probationary license; the wait is 6 months now.
-- Mandate 50 hours of behind the wheel practice time, including 10 hours at night, for permit holders.
-- Bar municipal prosecutors from striking bargain-down deals with provisional drivers. Some teens have been able to avoid the harshest penalties by bargaining-down traffic tickets to no-point offenses.
-- Require provisional drivers to display orange hang tags whenever they are behind the wheel.
One bill in the package, A-2089, is named in the memory of Kyleigh Dalessio, a 16-year-old honor student and athlete from Long Valley, who died in an accident involving a young driver with multiple passengers.