Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 6, 2023

Is There Racial Bias in the Enforcement of Primary Seat Belt Laws? Evidence from Veil of Darkness Tests

  • Ben Brewer ORCID logo EMAIL logo


State mandatory seat belt laws have become stricter over time, allowing for a vehicle to be stopped solely for a suspected seat belt infraction. While effective in reducing traffic fatalities, this additional discretion may also come with the possibility of increased racial targeting. Using individual-level traffic stop data, I combine recent advances in the Veil-of-Darkness test with a difference-in-difference identification strategy to estimate whether primary seat belt laws are associated with changes in the racial composition of seat belt stops. Results indicate that under primary seat belt enforcement, a black individual is 1.138–1.222 times more likely than a white individual to be stopped for a seat belt violation under the good visibility of daylight compared to the poor visibility of darkness. These additional stops end mostly in warnings, suggesting the law is used to increase the number of pretextual stops made, specifically on black drivers.

JEL Classification: K14; K42; J15

Corresponding author: Ben Brewer, Department of Economics, Finance & Insurance, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT, USA, E-mail: .


I thank seminar participants at Bryant University, the University of Hartford, the Southern Economic Association Annual Conference and the Western Economic Association Annual Conference for their comments and suggestions. Any errors are my own.


Brewer, B. 2020. “Click It or Give It: Increased Seat Belt Law Enforcement and Organ Donation.” Health Economics 29 (11): 1400–21. in Google Scholar

Feigenberg, B., and C. Miller. 2022. “Would Eliminating Racial Disparities in Motor Vehicle Searches Have Efficiency Costs?” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 137 (1): 49–113. in Google Scholar

Goodman-Bacon, A. 2021. “Difference-in-Differences with Variation in Treatment Timing.” Journal of Econometrics 225 (2): 254–77. in Google Scholar

Grogger, J., and G. Ridgeway. 2006. “Testing for Racial Profiling in Traffic Stops from Behind a Veil of Darkness.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 101 (475): 878–87. in Google Scholar

Guryan, J., and K. K. Charles. 2013. “Taste-Based or Statistical Discrimination: The Economics of Discrimination Returns to its Roots.” The Economic Journal 123 (572): F417–32. in Google Scholar

Horrace, W., and S. Rohlin. 2016. “How Dark Is Dark? Bright Lights, Big City, Racial Profiling.” The Review of Economics and Statistics 98 (2): 226–32. in Google Scholar

Kalinowski, J., M. Ross, and S. Ross. 2019a. Addressing Seasonality in Veil of Darkness Tests for Discrimination: An Instrumental Variables Approach. Storrs, CT: University of Connecticut Working Paper.Search in Google Scholar

Kalinowski, J., M. Ross, and S. Ross. 2019b. “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: The Geography of Police Stops.” AEA Papers and Proceedings 109: 143–7. in Google Scholar

Kalinowski, J., M. Ross, and S. Ross. 2023. Endogenous Driving Behavior in Tests of Racial Profiling. Storrs, CT: National Bureau of Economic Research. Also available at in Google Scholar

Pierson, E., C. Simoiu, J. Overgoor, S. Corbett-Davies, D. Jenson, A. Shoemaker, V. Ramachandran, P. Barghouty, C. Phillips, R. Shroff, and S. Goel. 2020. “A Large-Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops Across the United States.” Nature Human Behaviour 4 (7): 736–45. in Google Scholar

Ridgeway, G. 2009. Cincinnati Police Department Traffic Stops: Applying RAND’s Framework to Analyze Racial Disparities. Storrs, CT: Rand Corporation.10.7249/MG914Search in Google Scholar

Vivoda, J., D. Eby, and L. Kostyniuk. 2004. “Differences in Safety Belt Use by Race.” Accident Analysis & Prevention 36 (6): 1105–9. in Google Scholar

Worden, R., S. McLean, and A. Wheeler. 2012. “Testing for Racial Profiling with the Veil-of-Darkness Method.” Police Quarterly 15 (1): 92–111. in Google Scholar

Received: 2022-08-14
Accepted: 2023-02-15
Published Online: 2023-03-06

© 2023 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 9.12.2023 from
Scroll to top button