Illegal street racing occurs when two or more vehicles engage in a race on a public road in an area that is not designated for an official car race. Street racing may also be known as speed contests, drag racing, or speed races.
A street race can be very dangerous due to the high speeds that are involved. This is because street races often take place in residential areas or other similar areas. When street racing occurs in these areas, it increases the risk of a crash that may cause injury to bystanders, pedestrians, or other drivers, as well as property damage.
In many instances, illegal street racing involves the use of a vehicle or vehicles that have been illegally modified in order to increase speed or acceleration. These modifications also increase the risk of an accident occurring.
In addition to these issues, many street racing participants do not have experience or training to handle operating a vehicle at high speeds. Many illegal street racing accidents are caused by a driver losing control of their vehicle.
What is Exhibition of Speed?
“Exhibition of speed” is another term for drag racing or speed racing. To facilitate criminalizing illegal street racing activities, many courts have expanded the traditional definition of drag racing in anti-racing ordinances. Exhibition of speed is a type of reckless driving that occurs when an individual drives a vehicle at a rate of speed or in a manner that shows disregard for the safety of other individuals and property.
Traditional notions of exhibitions of speed and drag racing often hold that there are multiple drivers or an audience to watch, often at an illegal sideshow. Many modern laws have eliminated the multi-car or audience requirements of the criminal activity. Currently, exhibition of speed is largely defined as displaying an unlawful amount of speed on a public street or highway while operating a motor vehicle.
What acts are considered racing or exhibitions of speed vary by state. In general, however, most states have three common elements:
- Screeching tires, which by itself is usually not sufficient evidence for conviction;
- Deliberately trying to gain the attention of the public; and
- Driving that increases the risk of injury to the public unnecessarily.
What is Reckless Driving?
Illegal speed racing and exhibition of speed activities can be considered reckless driving. If an individual is charged with driving recklessly, it means they were driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others as well as a willful disregard for the consequences.
Reckless driving is a traffic offense that may or may not have caused damage to property or an accident. It is frequently associated with similar driving offenses, including:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Street racing or exhibition of speed; or
- Driving with serious disregard to traffic laws.
An individual is said to be driving recklessly when they are negligent in maintaining reasonable control of the vehicle. If a driver’s actions only amount to negligence and are not found to reach the willful or wanton disregard for the safety or consequences associated with the operation of the vehicle, it will not be sufficient to establish reckless driving.
A reckless driving charge is a more serious offense than a careless driving charge or a distracted driving charge. The difference is that reckless driving involves a certain level of intent to disregard the law. A careless or distracted driver, however, may not be acting intentionally.
Who Can be Charged with Street Racing?
In most jurisdictions, individuals who are participating in illegal street racing as drivers may face criminal charges. Depending on the circumstances, an individual may also be held liable for civil consequences if an injury or property damage results from the street racing.
In some jurisdictions a spectator to the street race may also face the same criminal consequences as the driver. A spectator is typically defined as an individual who is present at a street racing location for the purpose of viewing, witnessing, or watching the event. Additionally, an individual may be cited if they do any of the following with regard to the street race:
- Engage in;
- Aid in;
- Assist with preparations for; or
- Participates in.
What are the Consequences for Criminal Street Racing Charges?
There may be criminal consequences for criminal street racing. Exhibition of speed is typically charged as a misdemeanor. These consequences may vary by state or jurisdiction. Penalties for a driver, spectator, or other participant may include:
- Arrest or imprisonment for up to three months or possibly longer, depending on the circumstances;
- Impoundment of the vehicle used during the race;
- Criminal fines, often up to $1,000;
- Revocation of the individual’s driver’s license;
- Cancellation of vehicle insurance or a drastic increase of insurance premiums;
- Equipment violations; or
- Other related citations.
Charges stemming from an illegal street race may be elevated to a felony traffic violation if certain factors are present, including:
- Drunk driving; causing serious bodily injury to another individual;
- Causing serious property damage; or
- Injuring a police officer.
What are Some of the Consequences of Reckless Driving?
Reckless driving can result in serious traffic and criminal charges for the driver. The penalties for a conviction can range from fines to prison, depending on the jurisdiction. Common punishments for reckless driving include:
- Traffic violation fines or fees;
- Charges for a criminal misdemeanor;
- Charges that result in a felony criminal record;
- Probation; or
It is important to note that an individual can receive more than one of the previously mentioned punishments or be charged with multiple violations. For example, in a situation involving serious bodily injury as a result of the reckless driving, it may carry a heightened charge of aggravated reckless driving. This may lead to a charge for a Class 4 felony, if available in the jurisdiction.
An individual who is convicted of a Class 4 felony may face a prison sentence, which can range from 2 to 10 years. They may also be required to pay fines up to $10,000.
Additionally, a victim of reckless driving accident is entitled to file a lawsuit against the driver that caused the harm or property damage. A civil lawsuit can be quite costly and affect the defendant for years to come.
Are there Any Defenses to Street Racing?
Anti-racing and exhibition of speed laws or ordinances are often broad in their definitions. Defenses to illegal street racing may include:
- A lack of evidence;
- An inability to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; or
- A vague statute, which means the statute or ordinance is not specific enough to put an ordinary individual on notice of what activities are prohibited;
- The race was not an exhibition and the individuals did not intend to race or exhibit speed;
- An accident, where loss of traction or noise was caused by the road conditions, such as gravel or moisture.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Street Racing Charges?
It is essential to have the assistance of an experienced traffic violation attorney for any street racing related charges. These charges can be complex and involve many different individuals and areas of law. An attorney can review your case, determine if any defenses are available to you, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.
As noted above, street racing charges can become very serious if serious bodily injury occurs. Since the laws vary by state, it is essential to have the help of an attorney in order to obtain the best outcome for your case.