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Fearful for their daughters' safety on deserted roads, dozens of parents in northern and central B.C. are telling their children not to display the mandatory N decal that identifies them as new drivers, says a driving instructor.

Steve Wallace acknowledges it's an irrational fear, fuelled by the disappearance or murder of 18 women in northern B.C. on what's known as the Highway of Tears, because none of the abducted women was driving a vehicle.

But with a majority of roads in rural B.C. unlit and empty, coupled with teens who sometimes have to drive long distances because public transport doesn't exist, breaking the law is preferable to the chance a young female may be stalked, he suggested.

"Parents are saying they're not going to put the N on. They're going to take the $109 fine," said Mr. Wallace, who has taught driving for 37 years and operates schools in the B.C. Interior towns of Prince George and Quesnel and on Vancouver Island in Victoria, Nanaimo, Duncan and Port Alberni.

In 1998, B.C. introduced the Graduated Licensing Program in which learner drivers must display the removable L decal. After passing the learner's test, drivers get the N decal, which they must display when driving and which identifies them as a novice, usually for a two-year period.

B.C. is the only province in Canada where it's mandatory for drivers to display signs during both the learner and novice stages or risk penalties, according to Insurance Corporation of B.C. spokesman Adam Grossman.

A Quesnel businessman said he'd rather pay a fine than worry whether his daughters will make it home unharmed. His two oldest daughters haven't been fined for driving without an N, and his youngest, soon to be on the road, won't display the removable green and black decal either.

"People can look around and see young drivers. The N makes them a target," said the father, who lives in a rural area and asked not to be identified for fear that police might target his daughters.

Part of his willingness to disregard the law is because a neighbour's daughter who was hitchhiking in the Quesnel area in 1999 was later found dead. There have been no arrests in the case.

In Prince George, the mother of two daughters said it's "very, very common for young drivers not to display the N. We live in a rural area and it's just plain silly to put it on and have some creeper follow them home," she said.

Another Prince George-area parent said her 20-year-old daughter refuses to display the N after being followed home.

The Prince George RCMP detachment hasn't heard of any new female drivers who refuse to use the N decals. "A truly responsible person would have their children obey the law," said spokesperson Corporal Craig Douglass.

The problem is, police have no foolproof way of knowing whether a driver should be sporting the N, usually placed on the rear of the vehicle, Mr. Wallace said.

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 father of two girls, Cpl. Douglass said there's been no evidence to indicate that young females with Ns are being targeted. "There hasn't been a single file where a female was singled out because her vehicle was displaying the N," he said. "The N doesn't say I'm a young, good-looking girl looking for trouble."

And he's not convinced that removing the N protects young females behind the wheel. "Anybody driving in a vehicle can see the driver," Cpl. Douglass said.

ICBC hasn't heard that parents are forbidding teenage daughters from displaying the N, nor is it aware that young drivers with the decal are at risk, Mr. Grossman wrote in an e-mail response.

Rather, the visible decals improve road safety because new drivers are identifiable to police who can enforce traffic rules, he wrote, and motorists can give learning drivers extra room and consideration.

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