Would it be possible to abolish the police service in traffic safety in the United States?

During the month of April of this year the report Dismantling Law Enforcement’s Role in Traffic Safety: A Roadmap for Massachusetts was published. This study provides a vision and framework for moving towards police-free traffic safety.

Traffic stops are the most common form of contact between civilians and the police. A recent investigation by The New York Times found that, in the past five years, there were more than 400 deaths caused by police officers during traffic stops of people who were neither armed nor under pursuit for a violent crime.

Despite the obvious harm caused, there is growing evidence – according to the study – that traffic stops do not significantly reduce serious or fatal accidents. The report cites research by the Stanford Open Policing Project and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that highlights that, following the monitoring of 33 state patrols studied, they found no association between traffic stops and crash fatality rates.

During 2021, more than 38,000 people died in traffic accidents on U.S. roads. The report expresses a growing need to rethink the strategies used to make North American roads safer.

The report introduces a framework for assessing traffic offences for their impact on safety and concludes that many offences could be managed without police involvement or removed from the law altogether without any bearing on traffic safety. Different approaches in street design, technology and public policy could make it possible to build non-police alternatives for traffic safety.

The study offers several recommendations for municipalities and state agencies to reduce police involvement in traffic safety and provides alternatives that would be more effective in reducing serious and fatal crashes. Recommendations include, but are not limited to:

  • Proposing the prohibition of pretextual stops
  • Mandating traffic stop and crash data collection, analysis, and response
  • Increasing funding to improve infrastructure

The document also asks state legislators to promote legislation that includes:

  • Allowing municipalities to opt into automated traffic camera enforcement
  • Ending debt-based punitive measures for non-payment of traffic fines
  • Allowing residents to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status

The proposed removal of traffic safety from the purview of all types of law enforcement, including the police and courts, would be no small change and significant transformations would be required in many areas of North American society and government.

With this in mind, the framework and recommendations included in this report take an approach that aims to reduce the harm and lessen the negative consequences of law enforcement involvement in traffic safety in the short term, while alternative systems would be built.


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