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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater


U.S. Department of Transportation
April 8, 2000

Saturday, April 8, 2000
Contact: Bill Adams
Tel.: (202) 366-5580
DOT 75-00

DETROIT -- U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater today reiterated the Clinton-Gore administration’s opposition to racial profiling and declared there should be zero tolerance for the practice of using primary seat belt and other traffic laws to target minority drivers.

Secretary Slater made his remarks at the National Bar Association’s 20th Annual Mid-Year Conference. Their symposium, Racial Profiling: A Sword and a Shield examined the pervasiveness of racial profiling and efforts to combat its effects on minorities.

"This Administration’s support for primary seat belt laws is about saving lives," said Secretary Slater. "I will not, however, ignore the concerns of the African-American community or other minority communities that traffic laws are too often misused to intimidate and harass. We must insist on zero-tolerance for selective enforcement with the same commitment that we insist on zero tolerance for driving without a seat belt."

Secretary Slater cited a July 1999, Meharry Medical College and General Motors study that found that African American youth are 50 percent less likely to be buckled than whites or Hispanics. It also observed that 100 percent seat belt use by African Americans could save as many as 1,300 lives per year and prevent 26,000 injuries at a cost savings of nearly $2.6 billion. Two years earlier, Secretary Slater joined President Clinton in releasing a national strategy to increase seat belt use, urging states to pass primary seat belt laws.

Many African-American and Hispanic drivers, particularly males, believe that they are wrongly stopped by law officers solely because of their race, color and ethnicity. Some civil rights advocacy organizations fear that primary enforcement laws will permit police officers to further harass such drivers. .

President Clinton called the practice of racial profiling "morally indefensible" and issued a memorandum on June 9, 1999, requiring federal law enforcement officials to collect information on the race and sex of people they stop. The Administration supports Congressman John Conyers’ "Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act," which requires a nationwide study of racial profiling, and currently has a study being led by the Police Foundation which is assessing the differences in seat belt ticketing in ethnic and racial groups.

In addition, the department, led by Secretary Slater, has participated in a number of U.S. Department of Justice-sponsored meetings led by Attorney General Janet Reno: Professional Traffic Stops; Strengthening Police Community Relations; Building Accountability into Police Operations; and Traffic Stops and Data Collection: Analyzing and Using the Data. The department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working with state and community officials, civil rights organizations and leaders, law enforcement executives and educators in monitoring and addressing the issue of unfair treatment of people of color by law enforcement officers in traffic enforcement contacts.

The State of Michigan enacted a primary seat belt law effective March 10, 2000. The primary enforcement provision will revert to secondary enforcement if the safety usage rate is less than 80 percent on December 31, 2005. Currently, 17 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have primary seat belt laws.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Michigan more than $1.3 million during FY 2000 to encourage seat belt use. Activities include conducting six two-week long enforcement waves, developing 75 child safety seat fitting stations, receiving support from the automotive industry and receiving more than $4.4 million earmarked for the Buckle Up Michigan campaign.


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