Philadelphia, PA. — Following a unanimous vote out of the Public Safety Committee, Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large) offered an amendment to his Driving Equality bill. The amendment provides technical specifications, removal of mufflers as secondary violations, and an updated timeline to account for officer training. The technical aspects and removal of mufflers in Driving Equality reflect town hall and community conversations; Councilmember Thomas heard misconceptions from Philadelphians and worked to ensure that the bill is clear and accurate. The training timeline was crafted in response to conversations with the Managing Director’s Office and Philadelphia Police Department. The unamended bill has Driving Equality enforced immediately (upon signature from Mayor Kenney) but Councilmember Thomas is amending the bill to be implemented 120 days following passage. The amendment also removes mufflers as a secondary violation and keeps them classified as a primary violation.
“My Driving Equality bill reclassifies certain motor vehicle codes so that we keep the traffic stops that promote public safety and end the traffic stops that promote discrimination,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. “While I know the issue of racial discrimination in traffic stops firsthand, this has always been about Philadelphia as a whole. In hearing misconceptions from community members and training concerns from police officers, the bill needed to be amended to make sure this is done effectively.”
The unamended version of the Driving Equality bill lists a broken taillight as a secondary violation. The amendment specifies language to outline that the secondary violation, meaning a traffic stop would not be used, is only around a single light bulb not being illuminated. If multiple brake lights, headlights or running lights are not being illuminated then the vehicle presents a primary violation and a traffic stop is permitted.
Additionally, the amended Driving Equality bill removes “Exhaust Systems, Mufflers and Noise Control” as a secondary violation and will keep relevant violations as primary, where a traffic stop is permitted. After conversations with community members, and with the ongoing reality of ATVs and drag racing in Philadelphia, Councilmember Thomas seeks to find other methods of enforcing these types of violations. Using the second Driving Equality bill, which mandates the collection and publication of all traffic stops in Philadelphia, Thomas’ office will closely monitor that reclassified secondary violations are not compromising on public safety while evaluating that primary violations are not being used to discriminate.
“As a Councilmember At-Large, I represent the entire city of Philadelphia and must ensure that any legislation does not suffer from unintended harmful consequences,” explained Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. “After listening to communities across the city, some that support and some that oppose Driving Equality, I believe that changes had to be made before holding a vote. Since we began this process, noise control issues with ATVs and drag racing have grown to the forefront of constituent issues. The data and personal anecdotes suggest that these issues do not impact public safety, I still believe that. But I believe there are other ways to solve those issues than through my Driving Equality agenda. With the accompanying data bill, we are able to closely monitor all violations (primary and secondary) to make sure we are achieving the goal of promoting equality without compromising on public safety.”
On the issue of training and timeline, Councilmember Thomas has made clear that this bill is not about headlines but about changing police-community relations. The Philadelphia Police Department requested time, following the bill’s passage, to properly train officers. Councilmember Thomas agreed to a requested 120-day timeline to ensure that rank-and-file officers are properly briefed and trained on the changes through Driving Equality and able to effectively implement without sacrificing public safety.
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