This year Philadelphia became the first major city in the United States to ban law enforcement from pulling drivers over for minor traffic violations. The bill, called the Driving Equality Act, was passed in October of last year with the goal to “provide for the fair and transparent administration of the traffic violations” and “prevent racial disparities,”. The Philadelphia Police Department was provided with 120 days to prepare for its implementation after Mayor Kenney signed the bill. In March, the 120 day preparation period concluded and the Achieving Driving Equality law officially came into effect. The law effectively bans police officers from conducting minor traffic stops for offenses such as a broken tail light or recently expired registration.
The legislation was largely advanced by councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who has argued that minor traffic stops disproportionately affect and traumatize Black motorists. The Defender Association of Philadelphia found that from 2018-2019 Black drivers made up 72 percent of all recorded traffic stops, compared to just 15 percent of white drivers.
Minor traffic stops can also serve as a pretext for police officers to search vehicles for illegal drugs or weapons. Black drivers are at a higher risk of experiencing unfair searches and seizures than white drivers. The law will prevent interactions between police and drivers from escalating after minor violations.
The law was developed in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Police Department. In 2021 the City Council passed the bill with a large majority. The new ordinance is not without controversy, however, with opponents of the legislation arguing that it hinders police officers from doing their job. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the local police union is suing the city over the new law.
In an article from the Philly Tribune, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw says that, “the Driving Equality Bill introduced by Councilmember Thomas is an important step towards reducing the racial inequities identified in vehicle stops conducted in our city… the PPD is not abandoning or being prohibited from enforcing the eight secondary offenses identified; rather, the bill and executive order modify how enforcement will occur.”
Driving Equality separates motor vehicle violations into two categories: primary and secondary violations. Eight traffic violations have been reclassified as secondary violations. Secondary violations of the Philadelphia Vehicle Code will no longer be sufficient to warrant a traffic stop.
What Traffic Violations No Longer Warrant a Police Stop?
Philadelphia drivers can no longer be pulled over for any of the eight violations:
Until the pandemic, the Philadelphia Police Department carried out approximately 300,000 traffic stops annually. Now, the PPD pulls over just half that amount. Still, the new law has the potential to drastically reduce the number of traffic stops carried out in the city by hundreds of thousands. The Defender Association of Philadelphia found that 97 percent of the traffic stops executed by the Philadelphia Police Department were for minor violations.
Can I still be penalized for minor vehicle code violations?
Yes. Motorists should know that the Driving Equality Act does not change the vehicle code, merely the enforcement of it. Drivers can still be fined or ticketed for any minor traffic violations as a secondary offense. For example, if a police officer primarily stops a driver for suspecting that the driver is under the influence, and also sees a minor vehicle code violation while conducting the stop, the driver will be held accountable for both offenses.
You should stay up to date on all motor vehicle violations to reduce your chances of receiving a fine or ticket.
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