It sometimes seems that people who are African American or Hispanic are more likely to get pulled over by the authorities, not only in California but across the country. If you have ever felt unfairly targeted, you should know that published research demonstrates racial disparities when it comes to traffic stops and subsequent searches.

The data for the study came from a North Carolina database created 20 years ago. Its purpose was to collect information on traffic stops, including demographic information on the driver, the reason for the stop and its eventual outcome. The law creating the database mandated the collection of this information, initially only at the state level but eventually expanded to almost every municipality.

According to the Washington Post, when researchers controlled for other data, they found that authorities are twice as likely to pull over African American drivers than Caucasian drivers. Additionally, authorities conduct searches of African American drivers more often than white drivers following a stop. Authorities are also more likely to conduct a search of a Hispanic driver, although Hispanic drivers are no more likely than white drivers to get pulled over.

The disparity is even more pronounced when you consider that, on average, Caucasians drive more than African Americans. When conducting searches, authorities are more likely to find contraband on white drivers than either African American or Hispanic drivers. However, when authorities do find contraband, e.g., drugs, on a driver during a traffic stop, it is usually not enough to justify an arrest.

Only 3% of traffic stops involve searches, and of those, only 30% result in contraband hits, of which only 10% are substantial enough for an arrest. Therefore, the researchers concluded that the benefits of such searches do not justify the costs, suggesting that the purpose behind traffic stops should not be regulatory enforcement. Rather, the emphasis should be on traffic safety.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.