Communities Are Ready to Make Meaningful Changes in How Traffic Rules and Regulations Are Enforced

By , CPE Staff

 Late last year, Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to ban low-level traffic stops for minor infractions, such as: 

  • A single broken brake light 
  • A single non-functional headlight
  • Obscured or poorly attached registration plates 
  • Driving without inspection or emissions stickers 
  • Minor obstructions such as air fresheners hanging from rearview mirrors
  • Late registration (outside a 60-day grace period)
  • Issues with the vehicle’s bumper

Known as the Driving Equality Act, the new law is intended to reprioritize the use of law enforcement resources, lessen the risk of violence between officers and members of the public, and address the city’s drastic racial disparities in policing outcomes; data released in early March 2023 shows a 54% drop in the number of Black men pulled over in traffic since the law came into effect. 

A survey conducted in late 2022 by Safer Cities Research—weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history—asked 1,135 respondents from across the country if they supported such legislation and how convinced they were or were not by a series of possible rationales for the suggested change (with a ±3 margin of error):

  • 71% of survey participants supported changing traffic laws so that low-level violations that pose no immediate risk to public safety will no longer lead to traffic stops.
  • 74% said they found the rationale that reducing low-level stops would give law enforcement more time to address violent crime convincing. 
  • 62% said they found the rationale that reducing low-level stops would reduce the number of officers killed in the line of duty convincing.
  • 59% said they found the rationale that reducing low-level stops would reduce police killings of members of the public convincing.
  • 56% found the rationale that reducing low-level stops would reduce racial disparities in traffic enforcement convincing.

CPE served as an advisor to Philadelphia when the city was conducting an audit of its law enforcement system from 2017-2020, and has done extensive work around the issue of low-level vehicular and pedestrian stops across the country. We published a Traffic Safety White Paper, held a webinar to introduce the white paper’s findings, are collaborating with partners on learning communities around the issues raised by the white paper, and have partnered with local, state, and national partners to advance the goal of reducing racial inequities in policing by reducing the number of unnecessary traffic stops that make up so much of police officers’ days and so often lead to injury or death

These poll numbers provide strong evidence that the country’s voters are ready to make lasting, meaningful, and far-reaching changes in how traffic rules and regulations are enforced, and that they furthermore understand the cost if we fail to make those changes. CPE calls on elected officials at all levels of government to heed what their constituents are saying, and work to redesign their public safety systems in order to provide genuine safety for all communities.