Racial Profiling:

Limited Data Available on Motorist Stops

GGD-00-41: Published: Mar 13, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 12, 2000.

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Laurie E. Ekstrand
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the racial profiling of motorists, focusing on the: (1) findings and methodologies of analyses that have been conducted on racial profiling of motorists; and (2) federal, state, and local data available, or expected to be available, on motorist stops.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO found no comprehensive, nationwide source of information that could be used to determine whether race has been a key factor in motorist stops; (2) the available research is limited to five quantitative analyses that contain methodological limitations; (3) they have not provided conclusive empirical data from a social science standpoint to determine the extent to which racial profiling may occur; (4) however, the cumulative results of the analyses indicate that in relation to the populations to which they were compared, African American motorists in particular, and minority motorists in general, were proportionately more likely than whites to be stopped on the roadways studied; (5) data on the relative proportion of minorities stopped on a roadway, however, is only part of the information needed from a social science perspective to assess the degree to which racial profiling may occur; (6) a key limitation of the available analyses is that they did not fully examine whether different groups may have been at different levels of risk for being stopped because they differed in their rates or severity of committing traffic violations; (7) although GAO has no reason to expect that this occurred, such data would help determine whether minority motorists are stopped at the same level that they commit traffic law violations that are likely to prompt stops; (8) several analyses compared the racial composition of stopped motorists against that of a different population, but the validity of these comparison groups was questionable; (9) federal, state, and local agencies are in various stages of gathering data on motorist stops, and these efforts should augment the empirical data available from racial profiling studies; (10) the federal government, which has a limited role in making motorist stops, is undertaking several efforts to collect data; (11) in accordance with a presidential directive, three federal departments are preparing to collect data on the race, ethnicity, and gender of individuals whom they stop or search; (12) state and local agencies are in the best position to provide law enforcement data on motorist stops because most motorist stops are made by state and local law enforcement officers; (13) a number of state legislatures are considering bills to require state or local police to collect race and other data on motorist stops; (14) several local jurisdictions are also making efforts to collect motorist stop data; and (15) whether the efforts that are underway will produce the type and quality of information needed to answer the questions about racial profiling remains to be seen.

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