Traffic Stop Data

30% of all traffic stops on North Carolina roads
are of Black drivers

Research consistently indicates that people of color are stopped more often than whites. Though Black drivers are on 22% of the North Carolina population, they are 30% of all drivers stopped in North Carolina roads. Not every researcher or criminal justice stakeholders believes that comparison to the general population is the correct benchmark for this statistical analysis. See below for more information about pertinent North Carolina law and recent studies on the available traffic stops data.

Traffic Stop Data Statistics

North Carolina was the first in the nation to pass a “racial profiling” law (N.C.G.S. § 143B-903) that mandated the collection of ethnic and racial data at all police stops. Dr. Frank Baumgartner, Department of Political Science, UNC-Chapel Hill, conducted the first state-wide analysis of the data mandated by the statute above. He was asked to do this study by NC-CRED’s predecessor organization, the NCAJ Task Force on Racial Bias.

Black Drivers0%
Latino Drivers0%

Dr. Frank Baumgartner found that Black drivers are 77% more likely to be searched, and Latino driver 96% more likely to be searched, than White drivers after a traffic stop.

Factors Contributing to Disparities

Other scholars have pointed out that there are multiple possible explanations for the data findings of racial disparities in traffic stops. Dr. Deborah Weisel of North Carolina Central University and on behalf of the North Carolina Association of the Chiefs of Police, wrote a 115-page report reviewing the literature and discussing the shortcomings of the data. She concludes that there are a variety of possible explanations for the apparent racially biased stopping patterns, including:

  • Police bias—the theory that more minorities are pulled over due to implicit (and sometimes explicit) biases on the part of individual officers.
  • Deployment practices—there are important variations in police presence and stops determined by high-crime areas. These areas are usually economically disadvantaged, where a larger proportion of minorities live; therefore this theory says that a high, necessary number of stops in these areas will lead to a disproportionately large number of minorities being pulled over in the general datasets.
  • Differential offending—the theory that crime rates are higher for some racial or ethnic groups.

Best Practices for Traffic Stop Data

NC ACLU issued a great report on the history of data collection and the challenges facing North Carolina as we continue to struggle with what the traffic stop data can and cannot tell us.  ACLU-North Carolina recommends that:

  • Law enforcement should be required to record the exact location of each traffic stop.
  • Law enforcement should be trained on the importance and benefits of data collection.

NC-CRED Position

  • We support continued collection of traffic stop data.
  • We believe that the most important change that needs to be made to the data collection statute is that the geographical location data (GIS coordinates) and time of the stop be automatically added to the data collection form. In this way we can have an informed discussion about the influence of deployment practices on data outcomes.
  • We decline to conclude that differential offending explains the disproportionalities found in the traffic stop data.