The ability to obtain a drivers license has for a long time been a rite of passage and a doorway to freedom for young adults and parents alike.
As we get closer to this time where a visit to the DMV will leave our children driving to and from school, church and sporting events, Black parents are concerned about two things.
First, their safety while driving. Second, the safety of children when they are detained in a traffic stop.
Every year since 2000, the Missouri Attorney General issues a report on the make-up of traffic stops in Missouri. This includes the race and gender of the driver along with the outcome of the stop. Every year we watch as the disparity numbers do not improve.
Every year there are debates over whether there is an explanation other than bias for why Black drivers are arrested at a rate almost three times higher than we should expect based on population statistics. I’m not going to debate any of that today.
Instead, I want to point out an alarming fact that was brought to light in the most recent report.
White drivers are released from a stop with only a warning or no action 83.9% of the time.
Black drivers are released from a stop with a warning or no action only 66.1% of the time.
Think about that for a second.
Black drivers are almost 20% more likely to leave a traffic stop with a negative outcome. That can’t be accounted for by driving habits or any other neutral reasoning. It means that after a car has been pulled over, when the officer has interacted with the driver, they are significantly more likely to let white drivers go on about their day. Black drivers, on the other hand, are given a new legal problem to deal with and are detained longer.
Even a speeding ticket can be an expensive and time-consuming inconvenience, and, according to these numbers, black drivers are significantly more likely to experience that inconvenience.
There is a push to increase safety on the roads through banning texting while driving. I want parents and children to be safe while driving. I don’t want folks out there texting and driving. I also don’t want to give officers any more tools to increase the burden on Black folks. If this trend continues and there are even more options for issuing tickets or finding probable cause to pull a driver over, it means a whole not crop of young and old Black drivers are facing a life where they are 20% more likely than white peers to have points on their drivers license, have to pay hundreds of dollars in traffic tickets, and face missing work or being late because the officer wants to search their car.
Before we start passing new traffic enforcement laws, we should address the issues with enforcement.
We know there is a problem. We should take into account how the laws will be used and how they will affect our black and brown neighbors before we pass something that sounds good on the surface, but results in a harsher imposition of fees and other consequences on the basis of skin color. Ask your mayor and police chief what the solution is.
Ask your governor and attorney general to enforce equal protection under the law for all Missourians. Ask your kids and family members to remember that there is a NAACP Travel Advisory in Missouri and give them “the talk” as it applies to driving while Black in Missouri.