Black drivers more likely to get seatbelt ticket

Posted at 6:19 PM, Jan 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-28 00:20:02-05

Florida's American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an investigation from the Attorney Generals Office.

"We found some very interesting and disturbing information," said Florida ACLU's Joyce Hamilton Henry.

A new ACLU report shows non-Hispanic black people were cited nearly twice as often as white motorists for seat belt violations on average statewide.

Read more on this report from the New York Times

"If you talk with any African American or person of color, the common term that you hear or phrase that you hear is 'driving while black and brown,'" said Hamilton Henry. "African Americans know intuitively, knew intuitively, that racial profiling was occurring. This date quantifies that experience."

Florida's ACLU says its report is based on numbers provided by local law enforcement to the state. In some counties, it says the disparities are more glaring.

According to the report, in Escambia County, black people are four times more likely to be pulled over and cited for not wearing a seatbelt than white people. In Palm Beach County, black people are three times more likely. And in Orange County, 2.8 times more likely.

Numbers from 2014 show Tampa police officers issued citations to 575 black motorists and 549 white motorists. Black drivers are ticketed at a rate nearly 100 percent higher than would be expected by population, as Tampa's population is 26 percent black. White drivers are ticketed at a rate around 22 percent lower than would be expected by population, as Tampa's population is 62 percent white.

Of course, the data does not suggest why this is the case, and the ACLU and TPD differ in that regard.

"Clearly, that is a larger number, and there are not as many African Americans in the City of Tampa. There are a couple of things to remember with that. One is, we're just focused on safety, regardless of anyone's race. If we see someone that is not wearing a seatbelt, we're doing the right thing by pulling them over and either citing them or giving them a warning," said Tampa Police Spokesperson Steve Hegarty.

Hamilton Henry claims Tampa Police has not been consistent in reporting its numbers, but the department disputes that claim.

"We don't know what the reason is for not giving that information. We sent the report to Chief Eric Ward, and in all fairness to him, the information was sent to him yesterday evening... So we have requested a meeting," said Hamilton Henry.

Florida's Seat Belt Safety Law, which went into effect in 2005, requires law enforcement to report the numbers to the state.