Posted on March 30, 2023

Along Party Lines, State Advances Bill to Ban Low-Level Traffic Stops

Brendan Crowley, CT Examiner, March 29, 2023

A bill that would stop police from pulling over drivers for some equipment violations advanced Monday — a change proponents argue would let officers focus on more substantial traffic issues, but police say would make roadways less safe.

The bill, which passed through a House committee on a nearly party-line vote, would make certain “low level” equipment violations a secondary offense, meaning police couldn’t stop a driver for only that reason.

Following a recommendation from the Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force — which said Black drivers are almost twice as likely to be stopped for equipment violations as white drivers — the bill would make window tints, burned-out tail lights and license plate lights, expired license and registration, and a handful of other equipment issues all secondary violations that police could not solely use to justify stopping a driver.

While police have maintained that traffic stops are an important tool in managing roadway safety and investigating crimes, advocates have countered that Black and Hispanic drivers are disproportionately stopped for low-level equipment violations.

At a public hearing on the bill earlier in March, Ken Barone, associate director at the University of Connecticut’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, said the bill aims to take a scalpel to the 656 violations in the traffic code.

He said it focuses on minor infractions that don’t impact roadway safety, but rather drive racial disparities in traffic stops.

“We’ve learned from 10 years of research that when police primarily use the motor vehicle code to focus on hazardous and aggressive driving behavior, there is little to no racial disparity in [traffic stop] data,” said Barone, who manages the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, analyzing traffic stop data. “When they start to use the motor vehicle code as part of a crime reduction tool, it has little to no impact on crime and tends to drive racial and ethnic disparities.”


However, state Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, a police detective, said he doesn’t believe officers are focused on lower-level violations to the point of neglecting speed, traffic light or distracted driving enforcement.


“Increased traffic stops will lead to a decrease in traffic crashes and other violent crimes,” Howard said. “So, I just don’t think that at this time, with what we’ve seen in our state, that we should send a message to our law enforcement that we want any reduction in traffic stops.”