Racial Disparities in Florida Safety Belt Law Enforcement

Black motorists in Florida are stopped and ticketed for seatbelt violations in far greater numbers than white motorists — nearly twice as often statewide and up to four times as often in certain counties — according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is calling for investigation by the Florida Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights and County Commissions charged with oversight over specific law enforcement agencies.

The ACLU’s analysis is based on publicly available data reported by law enforcement agencies across Florida pursuant to the Florida Safety Belt Law. The law requires each agency to annually report to state officials the race and ethnicity of every recipient of a ticket for violating seatbelt requirements.  The data is published annually by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Analysis of the most recent statewide seatbelt citation data shows the law has been applied much more often to Black motorists than to white motorists. 

In 2014, Black motorists across Florida were stopped and ticketed for seatbelt violations at nearly twice the rate as white motorists overall. Seatbelt enforcement by specific county sheriff’s departments resulted in even greater disparities. Black motorists were stopped and cited:

  • 4 times more often than white motorists by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in 2011 (the most recent year that this agency reported seatbelt citation data);
  • 3 times more often than white motorists by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in 2014;
  • 2.8 times more often than white motorists by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in 2014

The report notes that the differences in seatbelt-wearing behavior between Black and white people, as documented by statewide and national studies, do not explain the racial disparities in seatbelt citation rates identified in this report.   It also identifies law enforcement agencies that have failed to comply with the Florida Safety Belt Law’s data collection and reporting requirement.

In addition to calling for investigation into the causes of these racial disparities, the ACLU seeks legislation that would, going forward, penalize law enforcement agencies that fail to comply with the statute’s reporting requirement, and recommends that law enforcement collect and analyze data for all traffic and pedestrian stops.  It also calls on law enforcement agencies to take promote fair and impartial policing by providing testing on implicit bias, training on bias-free policing to all officers, and supervision and retraining officers whose stop-and-citation practices result in large racial disparities.

Learn more: Black Motorists in Florida Cited for Seatbelt Violations Nearly Twice as Often as White Motorists

This report was amended on April 24, 2016.  A description of amendments can be found on pages 36-38.

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