Re-prioritizing traffic stops to reduce motor vehicle crash outcomes and racial disparities

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Background: Law enforcement traffic stops are one of the most common entryways to the US justice system. Conventional frameworks suggest traffic stops promote public safety by reducing dangerous driving practices and non-vehicular crime. Law enforcement agencies have wide latitude in enforcement, including prioritization of stop types: (1) safety (e.g. moving violation) stops, (2) investigatory stops, or (3) economic (regulatory and equipment) stops. In order to prevent traffic crash fatalities and reduce racial disparities, the police department of Fayetteville, North Carolina significantly re-prioritized safety stops. Methods: Annual traffic stop, motor vehicle crash, and crime data from 2002 to 2016 were combined to examine intervention (2013-2016) effects. Fayetteville was compared against synthetic control agencies built from 8 similar North Carolina agencies by weighted matching on pre-intervention period trends and comparison against post-intervention trends. Results: On average over the intervention period as compared to synthetic controls, Fayetteville increased both the number of safety stops + 121% (95% confidence interval + 17%, + 318%) and the relative proportion of safety stops (+ 47%). Traffic crash and injury outcomes were reduced, including traffic fatalities - 28% (- 64%, + 43%), injurious crashes - 23% (- 49%, + 16%), and total crashes - 13% (- 48%, + 21%). Disparity measures were reduced, including Black percent of traffic stops - 7% (- 9%, - 5%) and Black vs. White traffic stop rate ratio - 21% (- 29%, - 13%). In contrast to the Ferguson Effect hypothesis, the relative de-prioritization of investigatory stops was not associated with an increase in non-traffic crime outcomes, which were reduced or unchanged, including index crimes - 10% (- 25%, + 8%) and violent crimes - 2% (- 33%, + 43%). Confidence intervals were estimated using a different technique and, given small samples, may be asymmetrical. Conclusions: The re-prioritization of traffic stop types by law enforcement agencies may have positive public health consequences both for motor vehicle injury and racial disparity outcomes while having little impact on non-traffic crime.




Fliss, M. D., Baumgartner, F., Delamater, P., Marshall, S., Poole, C., & Robinson, W. (2020). Re-prioritizing traffic stops to reduce motor vehicle crash outcomes and racial disparities. Injury Epidemiology, 7(1).

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