Traffic Safety for All Act passes House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee

OLYMPIA- HB 1513, the Traffic Safety for All Act, which would re-prioritize police time from low-risk traffic stops to safety related stops cleared its first legislative hurdle when it passed out of the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee on Thursday, February 9th. Sponsored by Rep. Chipalo Street (D-Seattle), the bill would make most non-moving violations such as expired tabs or a broken taillight a secondary violation that officers could not pull people over for. The bill would help low-income people fix their cars by creating a pool of grant money that could be used for repair vouchers, taillight installation workshops, fee waivers for expired tabs, helmet vouchers, and other programs that would improve road safety.

“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 forced interactions that can spiral out of control and end up with someone not coming home.”

During the hearing for HB 1513, Street testified about his experience on a ride along with a Washington State Patrol trooper.

“As we were responding to low level traffic stops, we watched a DUI go the other way and we weren’t able to respond to a hit and run. That very night we stopped two other DUIs and another hit and run that were above and beyond those two we weren’t able to respond to,” said Street. “Our law enforcement officers have a lot to deal with and their time is best spent on these safety critical issues.”

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 would require officers to obtain written consent for a search where reasonable suspicion for another crime does not exist, bringing state law into alignment with the Washington State Patrol’s current practice.

A striking amendment for the bill clarified that officers can pull over cars with no license plates or mismatched license plates in order to combat vehicle theft.

Street also testified from personal experience about the need for limiting unnecssary interactions with police.

“Communities of color bear the disproportionate burden of these traffic stops, and this raises the chances we are involved in tragic escalations of force. There is no way for us to educate ourselves, present ourselves, or employ ourselves out of this danger,” Street said. “When I was a student at Brown, I was walking with my best friend…police pulled up and asked us for our ID. We hadn’t done anything wrong so I kept walking. When the police caught up with me thy beat be so badly that they had to take me to the hospital before they took me to jail. They beat me so badly that a woman who was watching part of the incident said she was traumatized from the incident. And this is all from an unnecessary forced interaction with the police. I really encourage each of you to watch the murder of Tyre. This gruesome video hits home in a different way for each person. For me it reminds me of the helplessness of not being able to protect yourself when you don’t know where the next blow is going to come from. It reminds me of the desperation of trying to find something to scream out so that you humanize yourself so that you stop the next strike and they stop hitting you. I’m lucky to be here. Tyre is not.”

HB 1513 has been referred to the House Transportation Committee. It is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, February 16th at 1:30 PM.