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Profiling For Your Own Good?

Promoting seat belt use among black motorists

Seat belts reduce injuries and deaths in motor vehicle crashes, but previous studies have found that blacks buckle up significantly less often than whites.

... Nathaniel C. Briggs, M.D. and his Meharry - State Farm Alliance research team found that racial differences in seatbelt use vary according to the type of seatbelt law enforced by individual states. In states with secondary seatbelt laws, where motorists can be cited for a seatbelt law violation only if stopped for another offense, blacks are significantly less likely to wear seatbelts than whites. In states with primary laws, where motorists can be stopped solely for not wearing a seat belt, the disparity disappears.

... While it is unclear what accounts for the increased seatbelt use among black motorists in primary law states, Briggs et al. suggest that the findings may reflect concerns of blacks about the possibility of racial profiling, or differential enforcement, whereby law enforcement officers could selectively stop and cite minority motorists for seatbelt law violations.

The authors note that "The issue of differential enforcement has received little attention in the peer-reviewed literature, and should be addressed using methodologically robust epidemiologic studies. In the interim, however, the passage of primary seat belt laws, in conjunction with provisions or companion legislation to monitor and prevent racial profiling, appears to be justified given the possibility that we can achieve racial parity in motor vehicle crash mortality rates."

In other words, "let's use the fear of racial profiling to get black people to protect themselves." Um, great. What makes this even more ridiculous is that the authors recommend a combination of primary seat belt laws and anti-profiling measures as a way to get more black people to wear seatbelts. But that recommendation only makes sense if their proffered explanation for the reduced disparity under primary laws is wrong. Otherwise, the anti-profiling measures would undo whatever increased pressure for wearing seatbelts primary laws cause.

Maybe in the next phase of their study the researchers might actually interview some black drivers (and some white ones for comparison) and ask them about what their thought process is in deciding whether to wear a seatbelt. (Of course, this is all assuming that increasing seat belt use is a worthy goal.)


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