Driving Change: Rethinking Minor Traffic Stops to Advance Equity and Efficiency
FOR MINOR OFFENSES
Why It Matters?
Pretextual stops based on minor vehicle violations like non-functioning taillights, expired registration tags, or failing to signal turns have been shown to disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic drivers, as well as residents of lower-income neighborhoods. Analysis of traffic stops in major cities has revealed significant racial disparities – for example, one study found Black drivers were nearly twice as likely to be pulled over compared to white drivers for equipment violations. Moreover, hit rates (the share of stops in which contraband is found) are lower for Black and Hispanic drivers, undermining justifications for this disproportionate targeting.
This enables racial profiling, as officers may make assumptions about drivers based on race when pulling them over for minor issues. In addition, pretextual stops erode public trust and police legitimacy, especially among communities of color. Residents who feel unfairly targeted are less likely to view the police favorably or cooperate with them during investigations.
While traffic enforcement is an important duty, officers should be judicious in making stops solely for minor violations, and mindful to avoid racial bias or appearing to over-police particular neighborhoods. Building strong community relationships requires policing strategies that are perceived as impartial and justified.
- Black drivers experience 33-50% higher stop rates compared to white/Hispanic drivers annually.
- Despite higher search rates, black drivers have lower illegal item possession than white drivers.
- Pretextual stops erode trust, increase tensions, and risk misconduct while fair enforcement promotes public safety.
- Policy changes have reduced pretextual stops from 25% to 5% in some jurisdictions.