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Can Tougher Laws Curb Exhibition Driving, Street ‘Takeovers’?

Since 2020, 15 states have enacted a range of measures to combat aggressive and dangerous driving.

By Matt Wicks  |  April 17, 2024

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, aggressive driving and street racing—also known as exhibition driving or street exhibitions—have become more commonplace because of drastic changes in driving behaviors, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration.

In response to several years of escalating aggressive driving behaviors—post-pandemic traffic fatalities are still exceptionally high—states have taken legislative action to address exhibition driving and aggressive driving by increasing penalties and expanding the scope of previous laws.

Exhibition Driving

Exhibition driving is a particularly dangerous form of aggressive driving that includes street racing, speed demonstrations, burnouts, doughnuts, drifting and street “takeovers,” which involve blocking off intersections or roadways and speeding or showing off stunts. Roadways, parking lots, highways and neighborhood streets serve as impromptu arenas for these incidents.

Since 2020, 15 states—Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington—have enacted a range of legislative measures targeting exhibition driving. These include:

  • Expanding the definition of exhibition driving to includes more types of driving and addressing participants beyond the driver.
  • Impounding vehicles used in exhibition driving.
  • Enhancing penalties for exhibition driving.

Arkansas’ definition of exhibition driving (SB 247, 2021) includes drag races involving 10 or more people engaging in racing that impedes regular vehicle traffic. California (AB 3, 2021) defined events with two or more spectators that impede traffic and involve stunts and other high-speed activities as “sideshows,” a form of exhibition driving.

Exhibition driving involves significant coordination by organizers and facilitators. To address the multifaceted ways people are involved in these activities, Texas (HB 1442, 2023) included the obstruction of a highway or passageway by engaging in reckless driving exhibitions as an offense. Organizing an event is now punishable under the same statutes as organized criminal activity. Similarly, Oregon (SB 615, 2023) clarified that anyone who obstructs a highway, for example by placing a barricade on a roadway, is guilty of facilitating a street takeover.

Washington (SB 5606, 2023) established that anyone who abets exhibition driving on public highways or off-street facilities is considered an accomplice, regardless of whether they are physically present when it occurs. In Connecticut (SB 904, 2023), a person who encourages, promotes, facilitates or aids in the performance of a street takeover—by acting as a judge or timekeeper, for example—can be fined up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned for up to six months.

Georgia (HB 534) made promoting or helping to organize any illegal drag racing or street exhibition an aggravated misdemeanor.

Pedestrians and drivers are at risk of being hit by a vehicle if they are unexpectedly caught in the middle of a street exhibition.

To ensure driver accountability, Alabama (HB 29, 2023) increased penalties for causing injuries during exhibition driving. A crash that causes severe injury to someone other than the driver is now a Class C felony with a two-year license suspension. If a person other than the driver is killed during an exhibition, the driver faces a Class B felony charge and a license suspension exceeding two years.

Under several new laws, the registered owners of vehicles involved in exhibition driving are likely to have their vehicles impounded, regardless of whether they were driving. Alabama (HB 29, 2023) prohibited all forms of exhibition driving and sideshows, and the motor vehicles involved are liable to be impounded. The registered owner of the vehicle is responsible for all expenses associated with the impoundment of the vehicle. Arizona (SB 1533, 2021) set penalties for drag racing at $1,000 and gave law enforcement officers authority to impound and immobilize vehicles used in exhibitions.

Similarly, Nevada (AB 408, 2023) authorized officers to impound vehicles when a person is cited for reckless driving in exhibition driving. Texas (HB 2889, 2023) permitted the impoundment of vehicles used in street racing and designated that the registered owner of the vehicle must pay the impoundment fees. Texas (HB 1442, 2023) added street racing as a type of organized criminal activity, allowing officers to seize any property that is used or intended to be used in street exhibitions. Washington (SB 5606, 2023) also allowed motor vehicles used in exhibition driving to be impounded.

Given the prevalence of street racing in highly populated areas, Alabama (HB 107, 2023) permitted peace officers in Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, to use recorded footage from existing automated enforcement systems to detect and record exhibition driving violations. Officers who observe violations through the automated system can order the towing and impoundment of vehicles involved and issue citations. The registered vehicle owner is responsible for all related expenses if convicted.

Aggressive Driving

According to AAA’s 2022 Traffic Safety Culture Survey, 88% of respondents said they perceived aggressive driving behaviors as extremely or very dangerous. NHTSA reported 12,330 fatalities in speeding-related crashes in 2021, or 29% of 42,939 total traffic deaths for the year.

The agency says that “violations that encroach on others’ safe space, such as driving much faster than prevailing speeds, following too closely, making unsafe lane changes, and running red lights, either on one occasion or over a period of time, may indicate a pattern of aggressive driving.” Since 2020, seven states—Arkansas, Arizona, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin—have responded with laws enhancing existing penalties for aggressive driving or outlining additional penalties, or both.

Wisconsin (AB 55, 2023) increased the penalty range for aggressive drivers if a crash results in bodily harm to a person other than the motorist. The new law also increased jail and/or prison time for aggressive driving offenders. Tennessee (SB 1673, 2022) and Virginia (SB 63 and SB 437, 2020) also enhanced penalties for aggressive driving, imposing additional fines and penalties for crashes resulting in bodily harm to others.

Arizona (SB 1832, 2021) adjusted its penalties for aggressive driving offenses by requiring convicted motorists to take eight hours of traffic safety courses. The new law allows a person convicted of aggressive driving to apply for a restricted license after a 45-day suspension, allowing them to make essential driving trips, such as to work, school or court appointments.

Matt Wicks is a policy associate in NCSL’s Transportation Program.

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