Criminal Justice

Report finds racial disparities among Houstonians pulled over for non-moving traffic violations

The report found that Houston’s Black drivers accounted for nearly half of those pulled over for non-moving traffic violations — despite the fact that about 23% of Houston’s population is Black.


Pictured is a Houston Police Department patrol vehicle.

A new report found racial disparities among Houstonians who were pulled over and arrested for non-moving traffic violations last year.

The report, published by the Texas Civil Rights Project on Tuesday, analyzed 2022 traffic stop data from the Houston Police Department and found that police pulled over 81,026 people specifically for non-moving traffic violations, like driving with an expired registration sticker. The report found that Houston’s Black drivers accounted for nearly 42% of these stops — despite the fact that about 23% of Houston's population is Black, according to census data.

In comparison, Hispanic drivers made up about 31% while white drivers accounted for about 25%, according to the report.

The report also found that Black drivers made up nearly 60% of the 2,733 arrests that occurred after these stops. Both Hispanic and white drivers accounted for about 19% of arrests.

The report recommends city officials “pass an ordinance that prohibits police from conducting non-safety traffic stops,” allowing police to focus on moving traffic violations like speeding and drunk driving.

“The ordinance would only allow police to focus on what causes road fatalities, to actually address what makes the road dangerous for all of us,” said Christopher Rivera, outreach coordinator for TCRP’s Criminal Injustice Program.

According to Rivera, HPD’s overreliance on non-safety traffic stops also punishes low-income drivers.

“We oppose these types of fines and fees because we already know people are struggling because inflation has gone up so much,” Rivera said. “Oftentimes, they just have to pay off these fines and fees, they don’t get their car fixed, and this vicious cycle of poverty just continues.”

In 2022, vehicle traffic violations in Houston amounted to over $19 million in fines and fees, according to the report. The most collected fine was for failure to display registration tags, resulting in the payment of over $500,000, the report found.

The report also recommended “a voucher program to help low-income drivers get their vehicles up to code.” A similar program was implemented in San Antonio back in July to give drivers with broken lights vouchers of up to $250 to cover the repair's cost at local participating auto shops.

“Police are currently going out and patrolling to siphon wealth, to injure individual drivers and increase our incarceration,” Rivera said. “This is a way to address these issues. This is a way to make our actual roads actually safer.”

Read the full report below:

Lucio Vasquez

Lucio Vasquez

Newscast Producer

Lucio Vasquez is a newscast producer at Houston Public Media, NPR’s affiliate station in Houston, Texas. Over the last two years, he's covered a wide range of topics, from politics and immigration to culture and the arts. Lately, Lucio has focused his reporting primarily on public safety and criminal justice...

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