Revenue, Race, and the Potential Unintended Consequences of Traffic Enforcement Reform


Automated enforcement can lead to an explosion in the number of tickets issued, which risks increasing lawmaker dependence on ticket revenue.

Highly publicized killings of people by law enforcement during traffic stops have led to a growing interest in traffic enforcement reform. While some see automated traffic enforcement and unarmed civilian units as a way to decrease interactions with law enforcement in hopes of decreasing police killings, it fails to address traditional traffic enforcement’s budgetary and racial problems. This article argues that this shift may lead to more enforcement of other codes that can create opportunities for violence and revenue extraction in overpoliced communities of color. The article concludes with an urging for more expansive and systemic changes to account for the revenue-generating economy of traffic enforcement.           

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Key Findings: 

  • Nonpayment of economic sanctions stemming from traffic tickets may trigger arrest warrants, vehicle impoundment, or a suspended driver’s license, which may carry additional costs.
  • Law enforcement uses traffic codes as a weapon to implement pretextual stops to make traffic-based forfeitures.
  • Research suggests revenue generation may push law enforcement officers away from investigating violent and property offenses and toward traffic enforcement and drug interdiction.
  • Studies suggest law enforcement’s ability to retain forfeiture revenue has helped motivate the war on drugs.


  • Afford a statutory right to counsel in cases involving fines and forfeitures.
  • Require a criminal conviction before forfeiture in nearly all cases.
  • Eliminate the federal Equitable Sharing program or pass laws that prohibit participation in the program.
  • Reduce law enforcement dependency on fines, fees, and forfeiture revenue by redirecting them elsewhere.
Beth A. Colgan
North Carolina Law Review