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L Signs, N Signs, and now M Signs?

Under BC’s graduated licensing rules, ‘Learners’ must display the official red ‘L’ sign; ‘Novices’ the official green ‘N’ sign on the back of their vehicle. The signs must be clearly visible to drivers behind them. These labels indicate the driver doesn’t have experience and is subject to special restrictions. It includes: blood alcohol content (zero for both stages); the number of passengers, and others.

The tendency is to be ‘up’ on all these rules and restrictions while going through the graduated licensing program—parents of teen participants likewise—but then to happily ‘file’ them away once the ultimate goal, the Class 7 license has been obtained. Apart from occasionally noticing an unusually creative way of displaying the sign—an upside down ‘L’, an ‘N’ turned into a ‘Z’, a twisted, torn, cracked or homemade sign, it’s probably fair to say that most drivers have too many other demands on their attention to fully register and recall the full import of these labels.

Informative signs

But even if law enforcement is (or becomes) their primary purpose, these labels still serve as notice to drivers in the vicinity of the learning driver to take extra care. To this end they are helpful: no more guessing required—this particular driver merits extra watchfulness. And in this regard they are likely much more persuasive than “baby on board” stickers.
This issue of labeling drivers—now a commonplace. The graduated licensing program has been in effect since August 1998 and has twice come up in the news recently. In late December 2010, the media reported that a driving instructor with 37 years experience operating driving schools in the BC interior and on Vancouver Island claimed that dozens of parents in northern and central BC were telling their teens not to display the mandatory N decal because they feared for their safety on deserted, unlit, rural roads. The story quoted one father as saying, “The N makes them a target.”

‘Targets’

Both the RCMP and ICBC said they had not heard of new drivers refusing to display the decal, and doubted that the decal made them ‘targets’. The driving instructor who was the source of the story pointed out: “Unless the novice driver is breaking the law or suspected of being drunk, there is no reason for police to pull the driver over. And, thus discover that they should be displaying the N.”
The second reflection on the usefulness of driving labels was a ‘stunt to spark discussion’ by the Abbotsford police. They publicly ‘unveiled’ a mock ‘M’ for mature driver. Their purpose: to highlight that in the last two years in Abbotsford the average age of the drivers was 40. The drivers were in 22 fatal collisions, and there were no teen fatalities. The ‘M’ label is a warning said the police that “middle-aged drivers need to be vigilant when it comes to driving behaviour.” A riff on this stunt in the Globe & Mail produced driving labels for all the remaining unused letters of the alphabet.
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