Dismantling Law Enforcement's Role in Traffic Safety

In April 2022 we launched Dismantling Law Enforcement's Role in Traffic Safety: A Roadmap for Massachusetts. This report offers a vision and framework for moving toward traffic safety without police. You can check out the full report here.

Traffic stops are the most common form of contact between civilians and the police. A recent investigation from the New York Times found that in the last five years, police officers killed more than 400 people during traffic stops who were not armed and were not under pursuit for a violent crime.

Despite the obvious harm caused, there is growing evidence that traffic stops do not meaningfully reduce serious and fatal crashes. Citing research from the The Stanford Open Policing Project and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the report highlights a study of 33 state patrols that found no association between traffic stops and death rates from crashes.

In 2021 more than 38,000 people died in traffic crashes on American roads—a ten year high. There is a desperate need to fundamentally rethink the strategies we employ to make our roads safer.

The report introduces a framework for assessing traffic violations for their impact on safety and finds that many violations could be managed without police engagement, or removed from the law entirely without any bearing on traffic safety. Different approaches in street design, technology, and policy make non-police alternatives to traffic safety possible. 

The report offers several recommendations for municipalities and state agencies to reduce police involvement in traffic safety, and provides alternatives that are more effective in reducing serious and fatal crashes. Recommendations include, but are not limited to:

  • Prohibiting pretextual stops;
  • Mandating traffic stop and crash data collection, analysis, and response; and
  • Increasing funding for infrastructure improvements. 

The report also calls on state lawmakers to advance legislation that includes:

  • Ending debt-based punitive measures for non-payment of traffic fines; and
  • Allowing residents to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. 

Removing traffic safety from the purview of all types of law enforcement, including police and the courts, is not a small change and will require significant transformations in many areas of our society and government. Recognizing this, the framework and recommendations included in this report take an approach that intends to reduce harm and decrease the negative consequences of law enforcement’s involvement in traffic safety in the short term, while alternative systems are being built. Read the full report here.