Understanding Traffic Stop Data and Police Racial Profiling

By Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director

A fascinating study released recently by Stanford University took issue with the ‘veil of darkness’ in traffic stops. Researchers found that black drivers, who are pulled over by police more frequently during the day, are not necessarily stopped as much after sunset.

This largest-ever study found that this was just one of several examples of systematic racial profiling. Ninety-five million traffic stop records were analyzed in the five-year study. Records came from 21 state patrol agencies and 35 municipal police departments from 2011 to 2018.

The research team used the massive database by narrowing the range of variables to only include traffic stops around 7:00 pm. They were able to find 113,000 stops from every location in the database and were able to determine if the stop was undertaken during the darker or lighter time of the year. Only two variables were used: 7 pm and the race of the driver.

Researchers state in the May 4th edition of Nature Human Behaviour that the analysis left no doubt that the darker the sky, the less likely it became that a black motorist would be stopped. The opposite was true if the sky was lighter.

Here are some other recent stories about police racial profiling:

Here are some other Driving in America headlines you might have missed:

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