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Driving While Black and Latinx: Stops, Fines, Fees, and Unjust Debts

This paper presents data suggesting that Black, Latinx, and poor people in New York disproportionately suffer the consequences of driver’s license suspensions due to traffic ticket debt and racially disproportionate traffic enforcement. Traffic stop data from various New York counties further illustrates that Black and Latinx people are more likely to be stopped and cited than their White counterparts regardless of the racial make-up of the community. Because of the extensive harm caused by the current system, the author urges New York lawmakers to support the Driver’s License Reform Act.  

You can read the full text of the paper here.

Key findings

  • Within New York City, rates of driver’s license suspensions in the 10 zip codes with the highest concentrations of people of color are 2.5 times higher than the rates in the 10 zip codes with the highest concentrations of white residents. In the rest of the state, suspension rates in the 10 zip codes with the highest concentrations of non-white people are four times higher than in the 10 zip codes with the most concentrated white populations. 
  • In 2017 in Monroe County, where African-Americans only account for 14.4 percent of the population, data shows that Black people made up 31.38 percent of New York State Police’s traffic stops. 
  • Drivers in majority Black zip codes in Buffalo, New York are at least eight times as likely to be issued multiple traffic tickets during a police stop or checkpoint versus those who live in predominantly White zip codes. 
  • In New York City, 76 percent of the drivers were White, but 80 percent of the people arrested for driving on a suspended license in 2018 were Black or Latinx. 
  • Three local governments on Long Island are more reliant on fines and fees than Ferguson, Missouri.
  • The rate of suspension in the 10 poorest zip codes in New York City is almost nine times higher than the suspension rate in the city’s ten wealthiest zip codes. 
  • Two thirds of New York’s driver’s license suspensions are not for dangerous driving, but traffic debt, creating a public safety problem with the increase of unlicensed and uninsured drivers. 

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New York Law School Racial Justice Project  
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