Center for American Progress

RELEASE: 4 Ways the U.S. Department of Transportation Can Combat Racially Biased Police Traffic Enforcement
Press Release

RELEASE: 4 Ways the U.S. Department of Transportation Can Combat Racially Biased Police Traffic Enforcement

Washington, D.C. — Amid mounting evidence that traffic enforcement fails to effectively fight crime, law enforcement continues to spend a significant amount of time and resources conducting routine traffic enforcement, with roughly 20 million stops annually. This persistence comes despite immense racial disparities, with Black motorists more likely to be stopped and searched than white drivers, especially for low-level infractions. Racially biased police traffic enforcement practices threaten the physical and psychological safety of Black drivers, as they are too often harassed, harmed, or even killed by police while going about their daily lives.

A new report authored by the Center for American Progress, Vera Institute of Justice, and Color Of Change calls on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to do its part to incentivize four effective traffic enforcement reforms at the state and local levels; examine the roles that administrative policies, programs, and funding play in reinforcing the harmful status quo; and take concrete steps forward to use its regulatory and funding capacities to put alternatives to police traffic enforcement at the center of future traffic safety efforts.

The four recommended reforms are:

  1. Enhancing performance measurement and data collection pursuant to formula grants. As a condition of its formula grants, DOT should require the collection of robust traffic safety and enforcement data to support appropriate evaluation of State Highway Safety plans and ensure equitable outcomes and to make those data available to the public.
  2. Leveraging discretionary grants to support state and local innovation. DOT should fully leverage discretionary funding to support state and local innovations that reduce police involvement in enforcement of minor traffic infractions and promote safe alternatives to police traffic enforcement.
  3. Bridging the research gap. DOT should increase support for national research that can bridge the gap between existing studies and emerging approaches that focus on both transportation and public safety.
  4. Engaging directly affected communities and uplifting innovations to amplify successes. DOT should publicly recognize the harms of police enforcement on the physical and psychological safety of Black drivers while also using every opportunity to uplift state and local innovations and innovators that are having positive impacts in communities across the country.

These recommendations provide a road map for DOT to use its authority to champion a nationwide shift in traffic safety and racial equity at such a critical time.

“We cannot wait until the next tragedy to take action on these concrete steps forward,” said Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of CAP. “To honor Tyre Nichols and so many others who have been surveilled, harassed, and, too often, killed while doing something as simple as driving while Black, DOT must take swift, public action to consider and adopt policies that advance safety and equity on our nation’s roadways.”

“The evidence is clear, it’s time to reconsider how we approach traffic safety,” said Nick Turner, president and director, Vera Institute of Justice. “Routine traffic enforcement doesn’t make us safer; in fact, it makes many communities feel less secure. The disproportionate usage of low-level traffic stops on Black and other communities of color have shown time and again that these types of traffic stops have deadly consequences. Many communities are already limiting traffic stops. DOT should support them and prioritize data-driven solutions and community engagement to ensure equitable outcomes for all.”

“The Department of Transportation has the power to shift the incentives of law enforcement to allocate resources on ineffective traffic enforcement practices and instead invest in solutions that keep Black drivers safe,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change. “DOT must take seriously the recommendations provided and take actionable steps to prioritize alternative traffic enforcement practices for traffic safety. This shift in approach is necessary to achieve both traffic safety and racial equity goals. Communities deserve to feel safe on the road and in their neighborhoods. Twenty million traffic stops per year do not make us safer; they make Black people feel targeted. Low-level traffic stops create fear in communities, which further erodes trust in the law enforcement. We believe these recommendations will provide the steps needed to achieve progress in both racial equity and road safety.”

Read the column: “4 Ways the Department of Transportation Can Combat Racially Biased Police Traffic Enforcement” by Rachael Eisenberg, Daniel Bodah, and Brandon Tucker.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].

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