Speed Reads

keep your hands on the wheel

Philadelphia is banning police from pulling drivers over for minor traffic violations

Philadelphia is poised to become the first major U.S. city to ban police from stopping drivers for low-level traffic violations when Mayor Jim Kenney (D) signs the Driving Equality Bill into law this week, CNN reports. Passed 14-2 by the city council earlier this month, the bill categorizes offenses that don't have high safety concerns, like broken lights or license plate issues, as "secondary violations" that are inadequate grounds for a traffic stop; violators will receive a warning or citation by mail instead. Officers can still pull over people for "primary violations" that threaten public safety.

The bill aims to put an end to racially-motivated traffic stops since stops for minor infractions disproportionately affect Black drivers. According to data from the Defender Association of Philadelphia, as of this year Black drivers, who make up 48 percent of Philadelphia's population, have accounted for 67 percent of traffic stops by police officers compared to just 12 percent of white drivers. "To many people who look like me, a traffic stop is a rite of passage — we pick out cars, we determine routes, we plan our social interactions around the fact that it is likely that we will be pulled over by police," said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who introduced the bill.

Separately, a new investigation by The New York Times found that "over the past five years, police officers have killed more than 400 drivers or passengers who were not wielding a gun or a knife, or under pursuit for a violent crime — a rate of more than one a week." 

Officers have also been killed in routine traffic stops, including a Chicago officer who was shot by a passenger during a stop for an expired registration this summer, though it's exceedingly rare: "An officer's chances of being killed at any vehicle stop are less than 1 in 3.6 million, excluding accidents," two studies cited by The New York Times have shown. "At stops for common traffic infractions, the odds are as low as 1 in 6.5 million, according to a 2019 study by Jordan Blair Woods, a law professor at the University of Arkansas."

As Dennis Jay Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explained to CNN, "the danger of not eliminating [traffic stops for minor infractions] is that it drives a wedge between the public and the police. If you're tired of driving while Black, you're less likely to cooperate during these stops."