Best of 2016: It's Time to End the Routine Traffic Stop

A year ago, I crashed my car into a school bus. Yes, I actually did. We were traveling perpendicular routes after dropping kids off at the school and met at an unmarked intersection. The bus was on the right and entered first and so on both counts had the right of way. I was driving slow -- less than 20 mph -- but the street was really slippery and I nipped the very rear of the bus. Didn't damage the bus at all but, depressingly, totaled my little Honda Fit. 

Not only did the city police show up, but because it was a school bus, they called in the state highway patrol. I received a reckless driving ticket -- standard procedure, I was told -- but everyone was really nice and even apologetic about it. One of the police officers offered to drive me to my office or wherever I needed to go. They seemed to know this was a stressful situation and did their best to make it less so for me.

I feel really sad that this isn't the experience all people have with local law enforcement, but I'm keenly aware that it is not. This series of articles came out after the Philando Castile shooting here in my home state of Minnesota. The police officer involved has now been charged with manslaughter and the defense has started to argue that Castile was on drugs at time and therefore....? We seem a long ways from even discussing these problems seriously, let alone addressing the systematic underlying causes. I'm more convinced than ever that ending the routine traffic stop would be a good place to start.

It's Time to End the Routine Traffic Stop

Routine traffic stops are dangerous for all involved and do little to improve safety. It's time to end the practice.

"One day back when I ran my own planning firm, one of my colleagues returned quite agitated from a site visit he was doing. He was slamming things and raising his voice; very out of character. I found out that he had gotten pulled over by a police officer in the city of Breezy Point for rolling through a stop sign. "The crazy thing is, I had come to a complete stop," I remember him saying.

"I completely believed him. For a few months, I had filled in as the Breezy Point city administrator while they were searching for a permanent replacement. In that capacity, I had a chance to meet with the police chief. He was a nice enough guy -- and certainly well-liked in the community -- but his approach made me uncomfortable. He instructed his officers to be very aggressive in pulling people over. He told me they would look for any reason they could to make a stop and then use that interaction as a stepping stone, of sorts, to fish for bigger things..."   Read the rest of the article.

More Thoughts on Ending Traffic Stops

Let's stop using the terrible design of our cities as a random pretext for pulling people over and, instead, be proactive about fixing the design.

"There has been a lot of reaction to Monday's article -- "It's time to end the routine traffic stop" -- and I'd like to address a bit of it here. I'll start by addressing the, statistically speaking, 70% of you who comment before reading the actual article: I'm not suggesting traffic laws not be enforced, just that they not be enforced through the traffic stop. It is the interaction between police officer and driver -- something an executive for a national police organization called "the highest-risk call" for officers -- that I'm seeking to diminish through design and technology.

"I'm also not advocating for ubiquitous cameras or the revenue-enhancement that comes from that kind of enforcement, although I will hypothesize that our tolerance for such things would diminish if they were administered in affluent neighborhoods with as much vigor as they are at random speed trap zones. Any type of automated ticketing -- whether by a camera or by an officer with a camera and computer -- has to be tied to an ethic of redesigning areas where the outcomes are consistently dangerous. That we don't routinely do this lends credence to those who argue that traffic enforcement is more about revenue/power than actual safety..."  Read the rest of the article.

A Podcast Discussion on Routine Traffic Stops

Chuck Marohn discusses the issue of traffic stops and the need to end them in this solo podcast.

"It's time to end the routine traffic stop. They are dangerous for public safety officials, create resentment in targeted neighborhoods and -- worst of all -- do not address the underlying safety problem inherent in speeding and other traffic violations."  Listen to the podcast.