Iconic Hollywood films like American Graffiti and The Fast and the Furious have glorified street drag racing and stunt driving as adrenaline-pumping, renegade sports. The lore and excitement surrounding these films has inspired many thrill seekers to try these dangerous activities themselves — much to the dismay of their communities.
Unlike action films, real-life street racing, stunt driving, and street takeovers come with real consequences including unwelcome noise, road blockages and the potential for serious injuries – or death—for drivers and bystanders. Violent behavior from participants and their followers is also a concern from those who get caught up in the competitive nature of the event.
Communities across the country are seeing an uptick in street racing in recent years. And many states and local municipalities are taking action to rid the roads of these unlawful events through legislation.
The COVID Effect
The Associated Press reported in May 2021 a spike in street racing and takeover incidents, amid the Coronavirus pandemic and changes in traffic volumes. With less traffic on highways and local roads, communities across the country saw surges in reckless driving incidents.
In addition, those with a passion for fast cars often had more time on their hands to modify them and share their interest with other like-minded racers.
Taking It To The Streets
A Los Angeles news station that has covered the problem of street racing says that it can be a well-coordinated effort that begins with blocking or taking over streets. Takeovers typically involve “flash mobs” of spectators along with several cars that coordinate the takeovers at specific times at predetermined intersections. Takeovers, also referred to as “sideshows,” involve blocking off intersections and speeding or showing off stunts like drifting, donuts, and ghost riding — when the driver jumps out of the car while it’s in motion to dance or perform near or on the car before jumping back in to take over the vehicle.
Street Racing Different Vs. Street Takeovers
Street racing, by comparison, is when multiple vehicles intentionally drive above the speed limit to see who can out-distance each other, per Law Insider. Street racing can happen on both streets as well as in off-street parking areas. While drivers might be driving fast in a street takeover, sideshows focus more-so on performative stunts with the vehicles as opposed to trying to out-race another car.
The Fast And The Fatal
A report from The Guardian cites that many communities are seeing the real consequences of street racing and stunt driving. Deaths and quality-of-life concerns have been widely reported from coast to coast.
- A 52-year-old man was killed while driving in the Atlanta region – and police said the culprit was a driver who was drag racing with another individual when he was hit head-on.
- A 28-year-old woman in Phoenix, Arizona, died after an alleged street racer struck her car at a high speed.
- A motorcyclist died in Portland, Oregon from an alleged racing-related accident.
- Non-fatal incidents also abound. On New Year’s Eve 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi, a large number of motorists blocked highway traffic for an hour while performing stunts such as donuts.
Often, parties related to illegal street racing have involved gun-brandishing participants, excessive noise, and left-behind trash. Participants and spectators have also become more aggressive toward law enforcement officials who attempt to break up races, a factor that has heightened emotions and the potential for violence.
Laying Down The Law
According to legal website AllLaw, in most states, street racing and similar conduct can lead to several different criminal charges. The most common charges for street racing include:
- Illegal Speed Competitions which include drag racing, timed races and pass blocking in which racers may take dangerous measures to keep others from passing them. These competitions can carry up to a year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine or community service. License suspension is also a possibility.
- Exhibition of Speed Penalties are usually considered a traffic infraction and might include fines of about $50 to $300 and driver’s license demerit points applied to the driver’s record. In some states, traffic judges can suspend a driver’s license for exhibition of speed violations.
- Reckless Driving Penalties are charged as a misdemeanor and are typically about the same as those for street racing.
When Street Racing Can be Charged as a Felony
In most states, the penalties for the above competitions are more serious if the offense resulted in bodily harm to or the death of another person. Such aggravated circumstances can elevate a street racing charge (or related offense) to a felony and result in thousands of dollars in fines and several years in prison. The offender could also face felony vehicular assault or manslaughter charges.
Local Governments Are Enacting Street Racing Legislation
- In 2020 the Common Council of White Plains, NY passed a package of legislation that would authorize the city to confiscate a vehicle used in connection with drag racing and unlawful speed contests. This would happen after the registered owner of the vehicle is convicted under or pleads guilty to the New York vehicle and traffic law that specifically prohibits speed contests and races. The legislation also adds a definition of unlawful speed contests to the city’s municipal code and provides penalties for those involved in such races and amends the city’s noise ordinance.
- In 2022, Commissioners for Gwinnett County, GA approved a new ordinance that allows Gwinnett Police to impound vehicles involved in street racing for up to a month. The County’s action is on the heels of cities such as Atlanta and Sandy Springs passing similar ordinances.
- The City Council of Des Moines, IA passed into law an ordinance that outlaws street racing and even makes it illegal to attend those types of events. This ordinance was inspired by dangerous illegal street racing events that have disrupted areas like the Redondo Beach parking lot and area business lots. These events had a sudden increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.
States Are Also Taking More Aggressive Action
- A Georgia bill mandates a minimum of 10 days in jail for “all” drag-racing convictions. Drivers who are convicted of drag racing three times within a five-year period must forfeit their vehicles.
- In Mississippi the Governor signed legislation into law that authorizes state troopers to respond to incidents in municipalities. Before, they were barred from responding to incidents in cities with more than 15,000 residents.
- Politicians in New York have introduced a bill that would permit New York City’s speed-detecting cameras to run overnight as well as on weekends in areas notorious for street racing.
Useful examples of street racing legislation from the eCode360® Library
If your community is interested in legislating or updating ordinances related to street racing, stunt driving and street takeovers, here are some useful examples that can be found in our eCode360 Library:
Updating your municipal code is vitally important
Submit your code updates as soon as possible and ensure constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Make it part of your Board meeting close-out process to send your adopted legislative changes to General Code when everything from that meeting is already right at hand.
General Code clients can easily send legislation to [email protected] (If you’re located in Texas, please submit your legislation to [email protected]) For tips that will allow us to process your code updates most efficiently, click here.
- US sees surge in deadly street racing amid pandemic | US news | The Guardian
- Illegal Street Racing: Laws and Penalties | AllLaw
- Florida’s Ban on Street Takeovers and Drag Racing on Public Roads Starts Today
- Proposed State Legislation Targets Illegal Street Racer’s Cars – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
- Hollywood Residents Demand More Action Against Stunt Driving, Drifting – NBC 6 South Florida
- Street racing: They’re fast, Atlanta’s furious – BBC News
- Street racing, takeovers reported across Texas cities in recent years | KXAN Austin
- Street racing and takeovers: Police make arrests after incidents in Austin
- From burning rubber to street racing, residents are ‘Furious’ about the influences of a movie franchise on the safety of their Los Angeles neighborhood | CNN
- Street Racing Charges | LegalMatch
- New York Street Racing Laws – New York Car Laws
- 10 of the best street racing movies ever put to film | Hemmings
- White Plains passes legislation to curb drag racing
- Des Moines City Council passes ordinance to outlaw dangerous street racing