Philadelphia City Council approves Driving Equality bill banning traffic stops for minor violations

Philadelphia City Council on Thursday approved ‘Driving Equality’ bills barring police from stopping drivers for minor traffic violations. The approval makes Philadelphia the first large city to address so-called ‘pretextual stops’, which often affect Black drivers at disproportionately higher rates. 

The bills, which were approved with a 14-2 vote, reclassifies motor vehicle code violations as ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ violations. 

In ‘primary’ violations, police officers are permitted to conduct traffic stops in the name of public safety. In ‘secondary’ violations, traffic stops would no longer be used for enforcement. 

The following issues are considered secondary violations in the Driving Equality Bills: 

  • Vehicle not registered within sixty days of the observed infraction
  • Registration plate not clearly displayed, fastened, or visible
  • Single brake light, headlight, running light, etc. not illuminated
  • Minor obstructions
  • Bumper issues
  • Operation of vehicle without official certificate of inspection
  • Unlawful operation without evidence of emission inspection

City council members who have sponsored the bill argue that the bills ‘end traffic stops that promote discrimination while keeping the traffic stops that promote public safety.’ The bills were introduced as a means to address ‘tension between police and community members by removing negative interactions.’ 

Following council approval, the bills were sent to Mayor Kenney to be signed into law. Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who drafted the bill, recently amended the bill to allow the Philadelphia Police Department 120 days for training and education before the laws are implemented. 

Corresponding bills mandate a public, searchable database of traffic stops that includes driver and officer information, a reason for the stop, as well demographic and geographic information. 

"Data and lived experiences showed us the problem and data will be key to making sure this is done right," said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. "Data will tell us if we should end more traffic stops or amend how this is enforced. Data will also tell other cities that Philadelphia is leading on this civil rights issue and it can be replicated."



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