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Credit: File Photo

The Philadelphia City Council passed legislation that will ban police vehicle stops for low-level traffic infractions, which disproportionately target Black drivers. 

The Driving Equality Bill, passed on Oct. 14 with a 14-2 vote, labels seven offenses as "secondary violations" that police officers will not solely be able to use to pull over a driver, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Instead, police can issue citations for those violations that will be mailed to drivers. With the bill, Philadelphia becomes the first major city to ban these traffic stops. 

Authored by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, the bill follows the 2011 Bailey v. Philadelphia lawsuit that accused the Philadelphia Police Department of unjust stop-and-frisk searches. Like stop-and-frisk searches, traffic stops for low-level infractions, such as broken tail lights and expired inspection stickers, disproportionately affect people of color. 

The Driving Equality Bill will be implemented 120 days after it is signed by Mayor Jim Kenney. Until then, the Philadelphia Police Department will be trained to operate under new standards for traffic patrol, Philly Voice reported. Police officers can still pull over drivers for higher-level offenses such as speeding or running a red light.

According to the Defender Association of Philadelphia, 97% of traffic stops are in response to low-level violations. Between September 2018 and 2019, Black drivers made up 72% of these stops despite making up 43% of Philadelphia’s population, the Inquirer reported. 

Traffic stops for low-level infractions are an example of racial disenfranchisement for people of color. A 2020 study found that Black and Latinx drivers are 16 times more likely to be incarcerated for low-level traffic offenses than white drivers.

A companion bill will create a database for traffic stops in Philadelphia that will list the driver and officer involved, the make and model of the vehicle, the reason for the stop, and other geographic and demographic information. 

“With this vote, I breathe a sigh of relief that my sons and my friends’ children will grow up in a city where being pulled over is not a rite of passage but a measure of the safety of your driving and vehicle, regardless of the skin color of the driver,” Thomas said in an Oct. 14 Philadelphia City Council press release. 

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