Street introduces bill to improve public safety and advance racial equity by prioritizing safety-related traffic stops

OLYMPIA – Rep. Chipalo Street (D-Seattle) introduced House Bill 1513 which would add Washington to a growing number of cities and states that are improving road and public safety by helping motorists fix equipment issues and reprioritizing police time from low-risk traffic stops to safety-related stops. This will save lives and reduce harmful racial inequities.

“Washington is experiencing a record high number of traffic deaths and yet too much of our policing is focused on non-moving violations that have no impact on road safety,” said Street. “Stops for non-moving violations disproportionately impact low-income communities, do little to improve public safety, and harm community-police relations. Let’s focus our resources on getting dangerous drivers off the road and not creating situations that can spiral out of control over a broken taillight.”

Making sure that everyone’s car is in the best operating condition is the first step toward reducing traffic stops. The bill lays the foundation for a system that would help low-income drivers avoid fines by creating a pool of grant money for cities, counties, tribes, and non-profits to create pilot programs that fix equipment issues. The money could be used for repair vouchers, taillight installation workshops, fee waivers for expired tabs, helmet vouchers, and other programs that would improve road safety.

Police are here to help make our community safe. Data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission shows that traffic enforcement of safety-related issues increases public safety. Fatalities rose when officers gave fewer citations for these issues—impairment, distraction, speed, and seatbelt violations. This is where our police officers’ valuable time should be spent, not on low-risk traffic stops that the NYU School of Law’s Policing Project study determined are “not an effective strategy for reducing crime.

Reprioritizing the types of traffic stops police officers make not only improves public safety, it also combats racial inequities. An analysis of high discretion searches by the Washington State Patrol found that troopers searched Black, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander drivers at roughly twice the rate of white drivers despite finding contraband at a lower rate than white drivers. The numbers were even starker for Native Americans who were searched at five times the rate of white drivers. The bill ensures safety-related stops focus on the issue for which the driver was originally stopped by only allowing searches of the driver and passengers if there is reasonable suspicion of a more serious crime – smell of alcohol, visible contraband.

Fewer forced interactions with police, and clear reasons for these stops, will reduce incidents that escalate to tragic uses of force. Giovonn Joseph McDade was killed by Kent Police in 2017 after he fled a traffic stop for expired tabs. His mother, Sophia Joseph, supports the legislation.

“My son was killed over expired tabs. We have to ask ourselves, was it worth it? Is that a good use of police time? Getting stopped for something like that makes us question the officer’s motives, it makes us feel targeted. Did that traffic stop make anyone safer?” said Joseph.

The bill would also require more robust data collection on traffics stops to help evaluate the bill’s other provisions. HB 1513 was submitted in conjunction with impacted community members and will be heard in the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee on Monday, January 31 at 1:30 PM. The hearing will be broadcast on

Rep. Chipalo Street introduces the Traffic Safety for All Act with impacted family members Katrina Johnson and Po Leapai.
Rep. Chipalo Street introduces the Traffic Safety for All Act with impacted family members Katrina Johnson and Po Leapai.