The National Academies

BTSCRP BTS-21 [Active]

Assessing and Mitigating Racial Disparities in the Enforcement of Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Micromobility Traffic-Related Laws

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Staff Responsibility: Richard Retting
Research Agency: The Rand Corporation
Principal Investigator: Shamena Anwar
Effective Date: 8/17/2022
Completion Date: 2/16/2025
Comments: Research underway

Enforcement is a critical component of a comprehensive behavioral traffic safety program. In order for enforcement to be effective in improving traffic safety, it must be fair and equitable. Studies have documented that racial profiling and biased policing are significant problems affecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations. For example, one study of more than 100 million traffic stops in the United States showed that Black drivers were stopped 40% more frequently than White drivers (Pierson et al., 2020). A study using North Carolina data from 2010 showed Black drivers were 63% more likely to be stopped than White drivers, and the search rate for Black drivers was 116% higher than that for White drivers (Baumgartner, Epp, and Shoub, 2018). An examination of bicycle enforcement data in Chicago found tickets were issued 8 times more often per capita in majority Black census tracts and 3 times more often in majority Latino tracts compared to majority white tracts (Barajas, 2021). Furthermore, a recent analysis of traffic fatalities by race and ethnicity found disproportionately high rates of fatal motor vehicle crash deaths for BIPOC populations (Retting et al., 2021).
In September 2020, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a statement offering recommendations to address racism in traffic enforcement. GHSA called for more “initiatives to collect and report standardized data about race in traffic enforcement,” more research to analyze these data, and “development of frameworks to require law enforcement grant subrecipients to be taking proactive steps to root out bias in traffic stops” (GHSA, 2020).  GHSA also called for efforts to invest in social and criminal justice programs and mental health programs. Furthermore, GHSA called for developing rigorous evaluations “of effective public safety programs or technologies that can supplement existing and necessary traffic enforcement efforts conducted by sworn law enforcement officers.”
As communities wrestle with the role of enforcement in their injury prevention efforts, there is a need for research to comprehensively document and describe the effects of pedestrian, bicycle, and micromobility enforcement programs on the safety, mobility, health, and well-being of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. There is also a need to better understand practices to mitigate inequities and provide alternative or supplemental approaches to policing that could foster restorative justice and better meet underlying traffic safety, health, and mobility goals.  National-level research and guidance could support NHTSA, GHSA, and state highway safety offices (SHSO) as they review and modify their guidance, activities, and programs to move toward more just policing practices.
The objectives of this research are to:
  • Assess the nature and magnitude of racial disparities in traffic safety-related policing with respect to pedestrians, bicyclists, and micromobility users; reasons for the disparities; the intended goals of conducting such enforcement; and the impact of disparities on Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. These assessments will be drawn from a variety of publicly available data including but not limited to police reports (where available), published literature, qualitative and quantitative studies, or other sources such as original research.
  • Describe steps communities are taking to consider and address the effects of biased enforcement within the context of pedestrian, bicycle, and micromobility user related traffic laws, including alternatives to police enforcement. These steps could include community-led programs, technology-based systems, organizational or policy changes, changes to traffic-related laws (e.g., efforts to decriminalize jaywalking), training and education of police officers, or other interventions.
  • Develop and apply a framework to evaluate the impacts and equity outcomes of these approaches and establish recommendations for mitigating inequities in enforcing traffic-related laws with respect to pedestrians, bicyclists, and micromobility users. The recommendations should also speak to the necessary (needed) data sources (qualitative and quantitative) and methods to evaluate alternatives.
STATUS: Research underway.

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