Friday, February 3, 2012

Discretion: Who Gets the Tickets?

I am just as guilty as the next guy; when I get ticketed by the police, I tend blame the officer rather than own up to my mistake. It is easy to do because officers have discretion, or the choice to write a ticket or let the person go with a warning. For those drivers that get upset and think the officer just had it out for you, you may be surprised to find out the facts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Justice Programs and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Smith & Durose, 2006), 2002 showed some remarkable trends in traffic statistics. An estimated 83.7% of drivers stopped by police, or about 14 million drivers, felt they were pulled over for a legitimate reason. Among drivers stopped for speeding, 72.5% were ticketed. While the majority of drivers felt the police were justified in stopping them, opinion was not uniform across different segments of the population. Here are some interesting statistics that explain the role of race, age and gender in whether or not you get a ticket.

"Did the officer pulled me over because I'm a minority?" In some cases, it is a valid claim, as not all officers that swear the oath to serve and protect follow what reasonable and prudent people would consider ethical standards. Some people might be surprised to find out that according to Smith and Durose (2006) in 2002, "white drivers were more likely (by overall number) than both black and Hispanic drivers to be stopped by police for speeding." The percentages of those citizens pulled over among the three races was almost even across the board; whites (8.7%), blacks (9.1%), and Hispanics (8.6%). That is where the argument ends, as Hispanics were 15% more likely and blacks 8% more likely to receive a citation for speeding than whites.

"Did the officer pull me over because I am a younger driver?" Insurance companies claim that those under the age of 25 have higher insurance rates because they are more at risk. According to the state of California's DMV (2008), the national statistic for likelihood of being involved in a fatal or injury accident for all drivers is 16.8 per 1,000 people. The risk of being involved in the same type of accident for the age group of 16 to 19 is 47.7 per 1,000 people, almost 3 times the risk ( Although it is clear that they are more at risk, younger drivers (16-26) were only pulled over 4.2% more often than older drivers (27+) for speeding and were ticketed 74.8% of the time for speeding as opposed to 71.1% of older drivers ticketed for speeding, according to Smith and Durose (2006) in 2002. The numbers are very close, which indicates that younger drivers are not being targeted more than older drivers, despite the risk they impose on themselves and other drivers.

"Would I have gotten the ticket if I were a woman?" This may sound like a funny question, but there is validity to wondering if gender plays a role in whether or not you receive a ticket. According to, women only account for about 12% of law enforcement jobs, so your odds of engaging a male officer on the streets is much greater. Are the male officers more lenient towards female drivers?  The statistics do not seem to support this theory. According to Smith and Durose (2006) in 2002, males (74.8%) stopped for speeding were more likely than females (69.3%) to be ticketed, but at only 5.5% difference, it could be said that other factors (such as mph above the speed limit) could play a role in why more men receive tickets than women.

It seems that race is still the big issue when it comes to issuing tickets, with age and gender being as statistically close as they are. As criminal justice majors, those who plan on entering the law enforcement field should do their part to ensure that discretionary decisions are kept ethical so that we are truly treated equal.

Smith, E. L., & Durose, M. R. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs & Bureau of Justics Statistics. (2006). Characteristics of drivers stopped by police: 2002 (NCJ 211471). Retrieved from website:


  1. Good read. It is actually very frustrating to hear people tear apart a police officer for giving them a ticket, even when they knew that they were the ones at fault. I think as criminal justice majors, we have the ability and the knowledge to look beyond the fact that the cop has it out for us and understand that there are more factors that contribute to getting ticketed (other than the "police officer was a jerk and had it out for me" mentality). Very interesting statistics, I didn't realize that the police let that many people go, I always thought the percentage of people who were actually ticketed was higher. I enjoyed the youtube video, although what that Florida police officer was doing was absolutely disgusting. Overall, nice article

  2. I found your blog very interesting! Of course, this is something we have discussed in almost every, if not every, criminal justice class I’ve taken! I am a white, female… By the age of 18, only having my driver’s license for less then 2 years, I already had 3 speeding tickets and a suspension for having too many speeding tickets (not something I am proud of). Not once when I was getting pulled over did I ever think it was because of my age, race or gender. I just knew I was speeding! However, a close family friend and my brother (both who are black) were driving together a few years ago and he was pulled over and got a speeding ticket. The first thing he thought was that it was because of their race. Skeptical, I asked if he was actually speeding and he was! He also told me my brother was asking suspicious by being jumpy and turning around every other second to look at the officer. It examining the situation I don’t think it was because of their race I think it more so had to do with that fact he was speeding and acting in a suspicious manner. Police officers are trained to watch for those acts and if he did not pull them over I think it would have been skeptical on his part. In the society we live in I’m sure there is a little racial profiling going on but I do not think it is as predominate as people think. I think that your article does a good job explaining this.

  3. It is frustrating to hear these people that were rightfully pulled over and ticketed blame the police officer. Sometimes I'll watch some of those crazy drivers shows or the Speeders show on TruTV, and they always seem to blame anyone else besides taking responsibility for their own mistakes. They'll start yelling at the officer, and blaming them for all of their problems. Some people just don't show any respect anymore.