Street racing is illegal in Texas, but what charges drivers face depends on the facts and circumstances. Street racing can be charged as “racing on a highway” or “reckless driving.” If someone is injured or dies during a street race, more serious charges can be filed. In this article, we will discuss why and how street racing is illegal in Texas.
Fort Worth, Texas, is home to the Texas Motor Speedway, one of the premier NASCAR racing destinations in the country. While the city has a love for loud and fast cars, there has also been a recent phenomenon of dangerous and illegal street racing activity. Street racing in Texas has doubled from 2019 to 2020 due to the pandemic, which has resulted in deaths, serious injuries, and countless arrests and vehicle impounds. As a result, street racing and stunting has become a focus for law enforcement, who are now also cracking down on street racing spectators.
Racing on a highway is made illegal under Texas Transportation Code 545.420. In this section, a street race is defined as the use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to:
The law also covers drag racing or acceleration contests, as well as any vehicle speed competition or contest. If someone is found guilty of street racing for the first time, they could face a Class B misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines.
Penalties increase for those previously convicted of street racing or if an injury occurs. Street racers face a Class A misdemeanor if they have previously been convicted once of street racing, or if they were intoxicated or had any open containers during the time of racing. A Class A misdemeanor in Texas is punishable by up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines. If an alleged offender has been convicted twice of street racing, they can face a State Jail Felony, which is punishable by 180 days to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Any street racing incident can be upgraded to a felony if an injury occurred. If any individual suffers a bodily injury as a result of the street racing, offenders face a Third-Degree Felony which is punishable from 2 to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. If an individual suffers seriously bodily injury or death, the offense can be upgraded to a Second-Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Along with jail time and fines, street racers also face the possibility of a suspended driver’s license for one year. In order to regain a license, they must complete 10 hours of community service as required by the Texas Transportation Code. Those caught driving with a suspended license will have a one-year suspension placed at the date they were caught and jeopardize the possibility of having their license reinstated early. Furthermore, vehicles can be seized from alleged street racers if any property damage or personal injury occurred during the crime.
Reckless driving is another charge that can be applied to street racers. Under the Texas Transportation Code, a person is guilty of reckless driving if they drive a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. In simpler terms, any driving activity that creates a deliberate or conscious indifference to the safety of others is considered reckless driving. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and $200 in fines.
In 2021, Senate Bill 1495 was passed, which enhanced the penalty for obstructing a highway or passageway from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor for an individual who engages in a reckless driving exhibition. The bill enhances the penalty to a state jail felony for person who has previously been convicted of this offense; a person who operates a vehicle while intoxicated; or who causes someone to suffer bodily injury. The bill also created the Class B misdemeanor offense of interference with a peace officer investigation of a highway racing or reckless driving exhibition. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.
Manslaughter is another, extremely serious crime that can be charged if the driver recklessly causes the death of another individual. A manslaughter charge is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. In order to be guilty of manslaughter, prosecutors must show that the alleged offender was aware of the risks that could occur but consciously disregarded them.
Street Racing is a relatively common occurrence in Texas and has been growing in popularity recently with its growing social media presence and spectator participation. While it is hard to separate street racing deaths and injuries from other incidents, Dallas police have reported over 14,000 citations for street racing in 2020 and an additional 612 citations for spectators of street racing. They also report having made 1,196 arrests and 659 impounds. This is more than double the previous year, suggesting the pandemic has increased the amount of street racing in Texas. Street racing is also a common occurrence in Fort Worth, prompting 1,800 Fort Worth residents to sign a petition in November of 2020 advocating for police to address the problem. Residents note that the Summer Creek area in southwest Fort Worth is a particular problem area for street racing.
Yes, in certain cities – including Fort Worth. In April 2021, Fort Worth passed a new city ordinance making it illegal to watch a street race. According to the ordinance, any person present as a spectator at a street race or reckless driving exhibition can face up to $500 in fines. This new law was passed in an effort to curb the amount of street racing in Fort Worth, as spectators are a large draw for street racers and stunting.
In Fort Worth and North Texas, numerous measures have taken place to crack down on street racing. One of the most effective has been the deployment of unmarked police cars, which have been able to infiltrate and stop street racing events. Further, cameras have been installed in areas notorious for street racing in order to identify suspects and deter others from racing. Along with installing speed bumps and LIDAR detectors, Fort Worth police have also set up areas for marked police cars to station in order to deter street racing events.
In Dallas, police are suggesting an alteration to the actual road system known as “Operation Road Diet.” Under this plan, police suggest that restricting the use of street lanes and opening them up only to pedestrian walk-lanes and bike lanes could curb dangerous driving. In DeSoto, police have been using aerial drones in order to identify street racing suspects and deter others from participating. With the growing number of street racing, as well as the outcry from city residents, many North Texas cities have also been implementing laws that crackdown on racing events, such as Fort Worth’s spectator law.
If you or a loved one has been charged with street racing or stunting, serious consequences can occur which require immediate action. The attorneys at Varghese Summersett have years of experience as both criminal prosecutors and defense attorneys, giving them expert knowledge of how Texas criminal courts operate. Along with hundreds of jury trials, the street racing attorneys at Varghese Summersett are known for relentless defense and favorable results. Call our street racing attorneys today to develop a legal plan of action.