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Driving While Black

StopWatch and Liberty produce report which raises concerns about racial profiling in driver-based police stops

StopWatch and Liberty release ‘Driving While Black,’  a new report which calls for an end to discriminatory policing on our roads.

A recent investigation by the Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMICFRS) found 'troubling' disparities in stop and search use, with recent figures showing that black people were 8 times more likely to be stopped on the street. Yet, despite years of complaints about discrimination on our roads – forces are not required to record the number of traffic stops, who is being stopped or the outcome of these stops.

Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act gives the police broad powers to stop anyone they wish driving on the roads without the need for any form of suspicion. Survey data suggests that there are over 5.5 million traffic stops a year. These stops are by far the most widely used form of police stop power and represent a significant use of police time, but they are not subject to basic safeguards such as recording and monitoring and fall outside of the stop and search guidance. 

In 2016, Theresa May (as home secretary) said 'if you are from a black and ethnic minority community, you are more likely to be stopped by police under the Road Traffic Act but actually less likely to be arrested or fined.' She promised the introduction of traffic stop recording and action to reduce disparities. But the government’s reforms have been too soft and too slow. A pilot conducted by the National Police Chiefs Council shows that traffic stop recording is possible without increasing bureaucracy for officers. Yet, the Home Office’s initiative to improve stop and search, 'BUSSS' still does not include traffic stops and discrimination on our roads continues.

In fact, the situation is likely to get worse. A new offence of 'driving when unlawfully in the UK', together with powers to search drivers for immigration purposes, are on the statute book and could be brought into force at any moment.  

Already dubbed 'driving while illegal', these new laws are likely to create an additional impetus for traffic stops and drive discrimination. As Baroness Doreen Lawrence argued when opposing the introduction of the new traffic offence and search powers, these provisions: '… will affect countless British citizens. Inevitably, black and Asian Brits will bear the brunt. The enforcement of this offence, together with lax traffic powers, will lead to discriminatory interference with the right to private life of these citizens.'

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