Illegal street racing is 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. It is also known as:

  • Speed contests;
  • Drag racing; and
  • Speed races.

A street race may be particularly dangerous because of the high speeds which are involved that can often take place in residential areas or other similar areas. This increases the risks of a crash causing injury to:

  • Bystanders;
  • Pedestrians; and
  • Other drivers.

In addition to these injuries, property damage may occur. In many cases, illegal street racing involves the use of vehicles which have been illegally modified to increase their speed and acceleration.

These alterations also increase the risk of a crash occurring. Many street racers do not have the experience or training to properly handle vehicles at high speeds. In many cases, street racing crashes are the result of a driver losing control of their vehicle.

In the State of Washington, a driver may be accused of reckless driving when operating a motor vehicle in a manner which shows total disregard for the safety of other individuals and property. Racing another vehicle can result in a reckless driving charge.

The State of Washington defines racing as willfully operating a motor vehicle at high and unlawful speeds. This means one or more individuals may be driving at exhibitions of speeds on a public street.

What Does Exhibition of Speed Mean?

Exhibition of speed is what most individuals would consider drag racing or street racing. In order to criminalize this activity, most courts have expanded the traditional definitions of drag racing in current anti-racing ordinances.

Exhibition of speed is a form of reckless driving. This occurs when an individual operates a vehicle at a rate of speed or in a manner which demonstrates disregard for the safety of other individuals and property.

The traditional notions of drag racing and exhibitions of speed often hold that there is more than one driver and/or an audience present to watch, often at illegal sideshows. Current laws ten to eliminate the multi-vehicle and audience requirements.

Today, exhibition of speed is typically defined as displaying an unlawful amount of speed on a public street or highway while operating a motor vehicle. The actions that are considered exhibitions of speed vary by state. However, most states include the following elements:

  • Screeching tires, which is by itself usually not sufficient evidence for a conviction;
  • Deliberately trying to gain the public’s attention; and
  • Driving which unnecessarily increases the risk of injury to the public.

Pursuant to Washington State street racing laws, exhibition of speed, or contested speed, is also commonly referred to as drag racing. It may, however, also included activities such as:

  • Deliberately trying to obtain the attention of the public by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner;
  • Screeching tires; and
  • Driving in a manner that unnecessarily increases the risk of injury to people or property.

What are Illegal Sideshows?

Illegal sideshows, also known as car sideshows, are illegal automobile exhibitions which occur on public highways or roadways. They often involve large gatherings of drivers and pedestrians who are observing drivers performing car stunts, which may include:

  • Donuts, or spinning in circles;
  • Exhibitions of speeds;
  • Street races; and
  • Other vehicular displays.

These types of illegal car shows may block traffic and highways and cause dangers to public safety. In addition to various car citations and violations, these activities may also involve other criminal elements, including:

The risk of injury at these types of events is often very high due to the high speeds and dangerous maneuvers being performed by the drivers. Vehicle-to-vehicle collisions as well as pedestrian injuries frequently occur.

Who can be Charged with Street Racing?

In most cases, individuals who are participating as drivers in a street race may face criminal charges. Depending on the circumstances of the situation, they may also be held liable for civil consequences should injuries or property damage result from the contest.

In some jurisdictions, spectators may also face the same criminal consequences as the drivers in an illegal speed contest. A spectator is typically defined as an individual who is present at a street racing location for any of the following purposes related to the event:

  • Viewing;
  • Observing;
  • Witnessing; or
  • Watching.

In addition, any individual who does any of the following related to a speed contest may also be cited:

  • Engages;
  • Aids in;
  • Assists with preparations; or
  • Participates.

Can I Be Charged With a Racing Charge Even if I Was Not Going Beyond the Speed Limit?

Yes, an individual may be charged with and convicted of racing even if they were not traveling above the speed limit. A prosecutor must only show that the defendant accelerated abruptly or unusually quickly.

Is a Racing Charge a Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor?

In the State of Washington, a racing charge is a gross misdemeanor. A gross misdemeanor is a charge that is more serious than a misdemeanor but not serious enough to be considered a felony.

What are the Consequences for Criminal Street Racing Charges?

There are several criminal consequences an individual may face for street facing charges. It is important to note that these may vary by state and jurisdiction.

Penalties for drivers, spectators, and other participants may include:

  • Arrest and imprisonment for up to three months or possibly longer, depending on the circumstances;
  • Vehicle impoundment;
  • Criminal fines, typically up to $1,000;
  • Revocation of the individual’s driver’s license;
  • Cancellation of the individual’s vehicle insurance or a drastic increase of premiums; and
  • Equipment violations and other related citations.

Charges may be elevated to a felony traffic violation if there are certain factors present, including:

  • Drunk driving;
  • Causing serious bodily injury to another individual;
  • Causing serious property damage; and
  • Injuring a law enforcement officer.

What is the Punishment for a Racing Conviction in Washington State?

There are several consequences a defendant may face for street racing charges in Washington State. If the defendant is convicted of street racing, they may face less than 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

A defendant who is convicted will have their driver’s license automatically suspended for 30 days. A driver’s license suspension will mean the defendant requires special, high risk insurance, or SR-22, for 3 years. SR-22 insurance is more expensive than regular insurance.

What are some Possible Defenses to Illegal Street Racing and Exhibition of Speed?

There are some possible defenses which may be available to charges of illegal street racing and exhibition of speed. Defenses may include the inability to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and other similar legal theories.

In many cases, anti-racing and exhibition of speed regulations are quite broad in their definitions. Due to how expansive many of these laws are, offenders can argue that the laws themselves are difficult to understand and, therefore, are not valid laws. Other possible defenses to illegal street racing or exhibition of speed may include:

  • Vague statute. This means that the statute or ordinance was not specific enough to put an ordinary person on notice of what activities are prohibited;
  • Not Exhibition, or the lack of intent to race or exhibit speed; and
  • Accident, or the loss of traction and noise being caused by road conditions, such as gravel or moisture.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Racing Charge?

Yes, it is essential to contact a Washington traffic violation lawyer if you are charged with illegal street racing or exhibition of speed. As noted above, there may be serious consequences, such as incarceration, loss or suspension of a driver’s license, and higher insurance premiums. Your attorney can review the circumstances of the case, determine if any defenses are available, and represent you during any court proceedings.