Driver decal law argued in Supreme Court

TRENTON – State and federal laws protect drivers from disseminating certain personal information, including age, an attorney argued before the state Supreme Court today.

Gregg Trautmann presented his legal challenge to a driver decal law that requires young motorists with learner’s permits or provisional licenses to display their driver status by affixing special decals to their license plates.

The legislation, dubbed “Kyleigh’s Law,” was named after 16-year-old Kyleigh D’Alessio, of Morris County, who died in a 2006 car accident. She was riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone driving with a provisional license.

Trautmann, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of his teen son and nephew, argued that a driver’s age is protected under state statute and the Federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The statute protects certain personal information, such as age, he said.

Since Kyleigh’s Law applies to student drivers between the ages of 17 and 21, it violates those protections and puts a certain age group at risk of unreasonable search and seizure, as well as makes them targets for predators, Trautmann argued.

“I think the privacy right,” he said, “is a well-regarded, well-founded, long-standing right.”

Trautmann said the statute allows driver identification information, such as age, to be provided to law enforcement, but not necessarily to be broadcasted.

“The information is for law enforcement, not the public,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t say you can publish it in the newspaper.”

However, courts have consistently ruled driving is a privilege – not a right – and that lawmakers can enact certain rules to better enforce laws already in place, argued Beth Mitchell of the state Attorney General’s Office.

Mitchell also argued the law is consistent with federal driver protection rules, saying a driver decal does not identify a motorist’s birthday – or even his or her precise age.

“There’s no actual age disclosure,” she said. “It’s (only an) age group.”

Supreme Court justices presented most of their questions during the approximately hour-long hearing to Trautmann, asking whether he could identify any other court case in the country in which a judge ruled that age, not someone’s date of birth, was a fundamental right of privacy.

“You want us to declare that age is a fundamental right?” Justice Barry Albin asked Trautmann, after giving Trautmann time to name a single case, which the attorney could not.

“Do you want us (to be the first court) to declare that age is a fundamental right?” Albin asked later for a second time.

“Perhaps, yes,” replied Trautmann.

Kyleigh’s Law was upheld by a state appellate court after it was passed by the Legislature in 2010.

Joseph Bell, an attorney representing Kyleigh’s family in the court proceedings, also spoke before the state’s Supreme Court Tuesday, saying statistics prove young drivers are at increased risks of being involved in tragic accidents and that driving is a privilege – not a constitutionally protected right.