Cruising” has been a popular pastime mostly for American youths who own or have access to automobiles. The practice essentially consists of driving slowly around a set “loop” of streets in an urban area, especially during evenings, weekends, or at other times when young people are free from obligations. Cruising activities include talking between automobiles at stoplights, stopping randomly to greet acquaintances on the street, or engaging in similar social activities.
The net effect is to slow or stop the flow of traffic.

Cruising reportedly originated in Española, New Mexico, which some regard as the “lowriding capital of the world.” The state of New Mexico is reportedly the birthplace of low-riding and the culture of low-riding and cruising.

Per the law in the places where cruising is a criminal offense, cruising is usually defined as passing a traffic checkpoint two times within a set period of time, often within 2 or 3 hours. Some local ordinances that outlaw cruising allow a person who is stopped on suspicion of cruising the opportunity to offer a legitimate reason for passing the checkpoint two times within 2 or 3 hours.

Racing on streets and roads is also a concern in many localities and many towns and cities have outlawed racing and established no-racing zones in areas where street racing is a problem.

Of course, cruising ordinances vary from city to city and county to county. Generally, they make it an infraction to drive repeatedly along the same route. An infraction is usually punishable by imposition of a fine. A person cannot be imprisoned for an infraction, so they are not entitled to trial by jury. If a person wants to contest an infraction, they would request a court hearing and present their case to a judge, probably in a traffic court.

For example, in Longmont, Colorado cruising is civil infraction. Cruising is defined as operating a motor vehicle on a street past a traffic control point more than three times, going in the same direction, within any three-hour period. Punishment for a first offense is a $125 minimum fine. The fine increases to a $350 minimum fine for a third or subsequent offense.

Some examples of how various municipalities in the State of Washington, are as follows:

  • The Municipal Code in Kent, Washington makes it illegal to attend unlawful street racing events, to engage in racing and to attend unlawful race events within a designated no-racing zone.
  • In Kirkland, Washington, the city council has designated traffic congestion areas in its Municipal Code and has prohibited cruising in those areas.
  • The Municipal Code in Puyallup, Washington establishes no-cruising areas where no-cruising signs are posted.
  • Shoreline, Washington prohibits street racing and watching street racing. It has established no racing zones on streets and roads where illegal racing is common;
  • Sumner, Washington also bans unlawful racing events and has established no racing zones.
  • Yakima, Washington has taken a different approach by providing for open-cruising events at specific times of the year. The city council has also established no-cruising areas.

These examples show the diversity of approaches to the problem of cruising and street racing as well.

Why Is Cruising Prohibited?

For the most part, “cruising” causes a variety of problems ranging from traffic congestion and traffic delay to lack of access to legitimate businesses in an area where cruising has taken hold.
Littering, noise and traffic accidents have also resulted from cruising or low-riding as it is known in some places, where it might involve specially modified cars.

Cruising has also been associated with criminal activity, which is what has prompted many cities and counties to ban cruising. Such crimes as fighting, loitering, trespassing, shootings, disturbing the peace and others associated with cruising have motivated officials to pass laws that prohibit cruising. As for racing, the dangers are obvious. Anyone who has driven along a city street where other cars are racing through traffic at dangerously high rates of speed can appreciate the risk posed by street racing.

Are Cruising Ordinances Valid?

The problem with cruising ordinances is that they are potentially unconstitutional because they interfere with our right under the U.S. Constitution to free, unrestricted intrastate travel, a companion to our right to unimpeded interstate travel. The United States Supreme Court has explicitly recognized that every citizen of the United States has a right to travel unfettered both within states and from state to state without interference from the government.

According to the United States Supreme Court, the right to travel, both interstate and intrastate, is part of the 14th Amendment’s right to due process of law.

People charged with cruising in violation of cruising ordinances have challenged the ordinances on the grounds that they impose an impermissible restriction on the right to intrastate travel in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Courts that have addressed the issue generally have stated that courts should weigh the right to unrestricted and free intrastate travel against the goals municipalities have tried to achieve in enacting their anti-cruising ordinances.

Generally, the prohibition of “cruising” is contained in the local laws of cities and counties. Courts have stated on several occasions that these regulations must meet two criteria in order to be constitutionally valid:

  • The ordinance must be specific enough to give people clear notice of exactly what type of conduct is prohibited;
  • The anti-cruising ordinance must be justified by a solid rationale, because it is a limitation of the right to intrastate travel.

If these two standards are not met, courts have ruled that ordinances banning cruising are unconstitutional. An unconstitutional ordinance cannot be enforced.

On the other hand, if an ordinance satisfies the criteria noted above, it would probably be found valid if challenged in a court of law. At the present time, a number of ordinances have been challenged as unconstitutional and have passed muster in the courts. So a municipality or county that wants to outlaw cruising can find several examples of ordinances that have been found acceptable by courts.

In some locales where cruising or low-riding is an established culture, citizens have protected their right to cruise through political action. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, cruisers persuaded the City Council to repeal an anti-cruising ordinance on the grounds that it was unnecessary.

They persuaded the City Council that other laws on the books would take care of problem behavior on the city’s roads. The Council then established a program to recognize local car clubs and encourage cruisers and business owners to work cooperatively to coordinate times and locations for legal cruising. So, the best solution for a cruiser might be political action to change local attitudes and ordinances.

Should I Seek an Attorney?

If you have been cited or ticketed for cruising or street racing, your best chance for fighting the charge is to consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer understands the special procedures for challenging the citation or ticket. You usually have a limited amount of time in which to notify authorities of your intent to challenge the ticket. You should consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to preserve your right to fight the ticket.