White and black Floridians wear their seat belts at roughly the same rates. One would think, then, that black drivers are about as likely to get ticketed by police officers for not wearing a seatbelt as white drivers.
Nope. According to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, police in Florida were nearly twice as likely in 2014 to stop and ticket black drivers for seat belt violations — and that may be an underestimate, since at least one county with a history of racial disparities in seat belt citations stopped reporting its stats altogether.
The ACLU pointed to a 2014 study from the Florida Department of Transportation that found 85.8 percent of black drivers were observed to be wearing their seat belts, compared with 91.5 percent of white drivers.
Another way to look at the statistics is that 14.2 percent of black drivers in Florida don't wear their seat belts, while 8.5 percent of white drivers don't. So black drivers are roughly 67 percent more likely to not wear their seat belts, but, according to the ACLU analysis, roughly 88 percent more likely to get ticketed for it — still a significant disparity.
"In 2014, black people made up only 13.5 percent of the estimated Florida resident driver population, but made up 21.96 percent of recipients of all seatbelt citations reported to state authorities," the ACLU found. "If black people had been stopped and ticketed for seatbelt violations in proportion to their estimated representation among Florida drivers, they would have received 20,296 fewer seatbelt citations in 2014."
These are the kinds of disparities that have led many people in minority communities to mockingly call "driving while black" a crime. After all, if black people aren't violating the law more, what other reason could there be, from their perspective, for getting pulled over?
The ACLU's analysis is also illuminating because it shows the prominence of racial bias in the justice system. Racial disparities in police use of force and the criminal justice system are often brushed off by skeptics because crime rates are generally higher in minority communities. But these statistics show that even when the rates of offenses are the same, black people are still disproportionately punished.
Update: Added more analysis of the ACLU's figures.