Cities and states are starting to ban police from pulling drivers over for low-level traffic infractions as a way to reduce racial profiling.
Last week, the City of Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to pass such legislation when it banned police from issuing a traffic stop based on these infractions:
- Driving with a broken taillight
- Not wearing a seatbelt
- Driving with minor damage to a bumper
- Driving with a registration that has been expired for less than two months
- Relocating a license plate to another visible part of the vehicle
- Obstruction of view (such as an air freshener placed on the rearview mirror)
“We feel like an entire generation can be changed as it relates to their perception of law enforcement and law enforcement relations,” said Isaiah Thomas, the council member who championed the legislation. “Being pulled over by police is what I would like to call a cultural norm. We would purchase our cars based on the likelihood of being pulled over or not pulled over. The amount of people you’d drive with would be predicated on this idea of not wanting to be pulled over.”
The legislation will not go into effect for another three months, but it continues a trend followed by other states and municipalities. In August, the City of Minneapolis proposed adopting similar measures as part of its August 2022 budget proposal, and the state of Virginia did something similar in March, when it decreed law enforcement could no longer stop drivers for a non-illuminated license plate, broken brake lights or tinted windows.
“Their job, as public servants, is to try and reduce crime so on occasion they’ll pull people over in a traffic stop to get some probable cause to search the car,” said Stacey Hervey, a criminal justice professor at Metro State University.
An analysis of 14 years of traffic stops in North Carolina, conducted by the University of South Carolina, shows Black drivers are 63% more likely to be pulled over than their white counterparts, and Black drivers are 115% more likely to be searched during that stop, even though data shows contraband, like illegal guns or drugs, are found more often when a white driver is searched.
Another study of 95 million traffic stops by Stanford University over five years concluded: “police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias.”
“Our past and how we were raised really does impact what we do, and I think the more we realize that as a society, and in police departments, the better off we’re all going to be, and the better off police officers are going to be,” said Hervey.