N.J. releases controversial racial speeding study

TRENTON, New Jersey (BNW) -- A New Jersey study suggesting black drivers speed more than other drivers was released this week despite federal government concerns about its accuracy.

The study found African-American motorists are more likely than white drivers to exceed the 65 mph speed limit on the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike. On a more urban stretch of the turnpike, where the speed limit is 55 mph, no difference was found, the report said.

The state attorney general's office ordered the study as part of its effort to comply with a consent decree it entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice, which accused State Police in April 1999 of racial profiling -- targeting minority drivers for traffic stops -- and discriminating against its own officers.

The release of the study came Monday despite concerns by the Justice Department. Federal officials had questioned its methods and asked that it be withheld.

"We continue to believe that the survey results have not been shown to be valid or reliable," Mark A. Posner, a Justice Department attorney, wrote in a January 8 letter to the New Jersey attorney general's office, according to a report by The Associated Press.

A spokeswoman with the Justice Department did not return a telephone messages by the AP.
A 1998 shooting of four minority men by troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike inflamed accusations that state police targeted minority motorists.

A year later, state officials admitted troopers practiced racial profiling and agreed to reforms, including monitoring the race of motorists stopped by troopers, to avoid a Justice Department lawsuit.

The study, conducted last spring and summer by the Public Services Research Institute, was aimed solely at describing the racial and ethnic distribution of speeders and non-speeders on the turnpike. Speeding was defined as exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph.

"Ours is simply a survey of speeding. It's not a study of profiling because for profiling you need two sets of information -- you need the data we produced on speeding and information on who the police cite, or ticket," said Robert Voas, senior research scientist with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Maryland, of which the Public Services Research Institute is a division.

According to the study findings, in the 65 mph zone where motorists enter the turnpike from Pennsylvania, drivers identified as African-American were 64 percent more likely to be speeding than those of similar age and sex who were identified as white.

About 4,100 of the 26,334 drivers in the study were identified as African-American. Hispanics were not significantly different from white drivers, but those classified as "other" were 18 percent more likely to speed, the study showed.

The study found that drivers younger than 45 were more than three times more likely to speed, and men were more likely to speed than women.

In the 55 mph speed zone in the northern end of the turnpike, which is more urban, there was no statistically reliable difference found between African-American and white drivers, the study found.

The study, which was done between March and June 2001, matched photographs of drivers taken by special cameras with radar-gun readings of their speed along 14 locations on the turnpike.

Three people scored each picture independently, and made a decision on ethnicity. At least two evaluators agreed on 26,334 of the drivers, said Robert Voas, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

The ethnic makeup was nearly identical to a study done a year earlier in which motorists identified their own ethnic makeup, he said.

"That gave us more confidence in our results," Voas said.

The state police have adopted a formal policy prohibiting troopers from considering a person's race except where that "characteristic is directly and specifically related to particular criminal activity."

New Jersey state Attorney General David Samson said the release of the report, ordered by Gov. James McGreevey, will allow for a public evaluation of its results, The Associated Press reported. The Justice Department has commissioned its own study of the report's reliability, Samson said.

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