‘Driving While Black’ Is a Real Issue

Analysis of millions of traffic stops reveals that racial disparities are indeed a serious problem nationwide

Elle Beau ❇︎
Inside of Elle Beau
8 min readApr 14, 2021

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Photo by Fortune Vieyra on Unsplash

Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race (Cambridge University Press, 2018) is a book co-authored by Kelsey Shoub, currently on the political science faculty of the University of South Carolina. She and her co-authors analyzed 14 years of traffic stop data in the State of North Carolina after a mandate from the state legislature to gather information intended to either confirm or refute reported racial disparities in traffic stops.

Although the main data collection took place in North Carolina, Shoub says that her takeaways from the study were definitive, “The first is that ‘driving while black’ is very much a thing; it’s everywhere and it’s not just a North Carolina or a Southern problem but across the United States,” Shoub says. “The second thing is that it appears to be more systemic than a few ‘bad apple’ officers engaged in racial profiling.”

Shoub and her co-authors also gathered and analyzed traffic stop data from law enforcement agencies in 16 other states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio and Vermont that pointed to similar disparities as those identified in North Carolina in the rate at which black drivers were stopped and searched compared to white drivers.

Significant findings from Shoub’s and her colleagues’ analysis of the North Carolina dataset include:

Blacks were 63 percent more likely to be stopped even though, as a whole, they drive 16 percent less. Taking into account less time on the road, blacks were about 95 percent more likely to be stopped.

Blacks were 115 percent more likely than whites to be searched in a traffic stop (5.05 percent for blacks, 2.35 percent for whites).

Contraband was more likely to be found in searches of white drivers.

In other unrelated research, the same things were reported, “We start by analyzing the rates at which police stop motorists in locations across the country, relative to the population in those areas. The data show that officers generally stop black drivers at higher rates than white drivers…

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Elle Beau ❇︎
Inside of Elle Beau

Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. "Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge." ~ Carl Jung