Traffic Stops and Discriminatory Policing in the United States

by Erin Killeen


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Many American drivers have been pulled over by a police officer at some point in their lives. Police make approximately eighteen million traffic stops per year in the United States.[1] Twelve percent of drivers are stopped per year by the police.[2] For minorities, that rate is higher: twenty-four percent of non-white drivers every year by the police.[3]

Anyone with a driver’s license knows that it is impossible to obey every traffic rule at all times. How many of us pause at a stop sign for precisely the right amount of time, or turn on our turn signal at precisely the correct distance from an intersection? It is well established that police use these minor traffic violations as a pretext to stop drivers and search their cars for more serious legal violations.[4] When more African American drivers are pulled over than white drivers, and more frequently subject to these searches when the police do pull them over, it becomes clear that the way police conduct these investigatory stops perpetuates the racial divide in America.[5]

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