Is All Street Racing Illegal? What Is an Exhibition of Speed Violation?

The laws and penalties for offenses involving illegal street races and sideshows.

Most states have laws prohibiting speed competitions (street racing) and exhibitions of speed (peeling out, squealing tires, and other similar conduct). However, state laws vary in defining, classifying, and penalizing these offenses. This article discusses some of the more common definitions and penalties.

Speed Competitions

Speed competition (sometimes referred to as “street racing,” “drag racing,” or “speed contests”) laws generally cover several types of car and motorcycle racing. These laws typically make it illegal to drive a vehicle on a highway or other premises open to the public in any race, speed contest, or acceleration contest.

For purposes of these laws, racing doesn’t necessarily have to be side-by-side drag racing. Racing statutes often contain prohibitions such as driving to:

  • “outgain or outdistance” another vehicle
  • prevent another vehicle from passing
  • arrive at a destination ahead of other vehicles, or
  • test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long-distance routes.

Speed competition laws usually prohibit intentional participation in operating a vehicle competitively against another vehicle or clock (or another timing device). However, to break the law in some states, the motorist must engage in a speed competition with another vehicle. The competition can be either prearranged or occur as an immediate competitive response to the conduct of another driver.

Exhibition of Speed

In many jurisdictions, the prohibition on speed competitions also covers “exhibitions of speed.” However, some states define exhibition of speed more specifically and treat it as a separate offense. In these states, actions of a driver that might qualify as an unlawful exhibition of speed could include:

  • squealing or spinning the tires
  • rapid acceleration
  • swerving or weaving in and out of traffic
  • leaving visible tire acceleration marks
  • causing unnecessary engine noise
  • skidding or sliding upon acceleration or stopping, or
  • causing the vehicle to turn abruptly or sway.

To prove an exhibition of speed violation, prosecutors generally must prove the driver operated a vehicle in a manner that drew the attention of persons nearby or disturbed the peace. In some states, a violation requires proof that the driver intended to show off or impress another person (though no particular person needs to be identified).

Penalties for Racing and Exhibitions of Speed

The penalties imposed for speed competition and exhibition of speed convictions vary significantly by state. Depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances of the case, these offenses can be infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. Potential penalties include imprisonment, fines, community service, driver’s license suspension or revocation, vehicle impoundment, vehicle forfeiture, demerit points on the motorist’s driving record, and completion of a driver’s education course.

Penalties are often more severe if:

  • the offender has subsequent convictions within a certain time period
  • the offense involved bodily injuries, or
  • the driver was intoxicated at the time of the offense.

In states that make exhibition of speed a separate offense, penalties are typically less severe than those imposed for an offense involving a speed competition.

Other Possible Charges

For racing or driving in a manner that might qualify as an exhibition of speed, the driver could also face reckless driving charges. And if this type of driving leads to the death of another person, vehicle homicide charges are a possibility.

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