For obvious safety reasons, most states have traffic laws that prohibit street racing, peeling out, spinning donuts, and other similar conduct on public roads. Generally, state laws categorize these types of driving as "exhibitions of speed" and/or "speed contests."
This article explains how state laws define exhibition-of-speed and street racing offenses and some of the possible penalties for convictions.
The laws of many states use the term "exhibition of speed" but do not specifically define it. In these states, the courts are tasked with coming up with a definition.
Here are a few examples from states that do define the offense:
"Exhibition driving" means driving a vehicle in a manner that disturbs the peace by creating or causing unnecessary engine noise, tire squeal, skid, or slide upon acceleration or braking; or driving and executing or attempting one or a series of unnecessarily abrupt turns.
"Exhibition of speed or acceleration" means the sudden acceleration of a vehicle resulting in the screeching of the vehicle's tires that is done to intentionally draw the attention of persons present toward the vehicle.
"Speed exhibition" means the operation of a motor vehicle to present a display of speed or power. "Speed exhibition" includes, but is not limited to, squealing the tires of a motor vehicle while it is stationary or in motion, rapid acceleration, rapid swerving or weaving in and out of traffic, producing smoke from tire slippage, or leaving visible tire acceleration marks on the surface of the highway or ground.
As you can see, there's quite a bit of variation in the definitions. However, the definitions generally all focus on rapid acceleration or other dangerous driving that drivers might engage in for the purpose of showing off. In some states, as shown by the second example above, a driver commits the violation only if he or she intended to show off or draw attention.
Generally, state laws define "speed contests" or "racing" to include a variety of types of speed competitions. Here are a few examples of these definitions:
"Drag race" is the operation of two or more vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speeds in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other or the operation of one or more vehicles over a selected course, from the same point to the same point, for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of the vehicle or vehicles within a certain distance or time limit.
"Racing" is the use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to outgain, outdistance or prevent another vehicle from passing, to arrive at a given destination ahead of another vehicle or vehicles, or to test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long-distance driving routes.
A "motor vehicle speed contest" includes a motor vehicle race against another vehicle, a clock, or other timing device.
Once again, the definitions vary by state. But overall, state laws are fairly comprehensive and cover basically all types of racing and speed competitions.
In many states, the penalties are the same for exhibitions of speed and street racing. But there are also lots of states where the penalties for these two violations are different. In states where the penalties are different, the consequences of a racing ticket are generally slightly more severe than those for an exhibition of speed.
In general, penalties are more severe when the driver has prior convictions.
Fine amounts. An exhibition of speed or racing tickets almost always results in fines. Fines are typically about $50 to $500 for infractions, $100 to $1,000 for misdemeanors, and $1,000 of more for felonies.
Jail sentences. As an infraction, exhibition of speed or racing doesn't carry any jail time. But if an offense is a misdemeanor, the possible jail term is usually up to six months or a year. With felony offenses, the convicted driver will typically face at least a year behind bars.
In many states, license suspension or revocation is a possible penalty for exhibition of speed and racing violations. Suspension periods vary but state but are most often less than a year.
Exhibition of speed and racing are generally categorized as moving violations. So, in states that have traffic violation point systems, a conviction will typically lead to points going on the driver's record.
Exhibition of speed charges can be serious, and you shouldn't view them as just another traffic ticket. Even if you have never been convicted of a crime before, the possibility that you might lose your license, pay a hefty fine, or spend time in jail means that you should seek out the advice of a local criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. Collateral consequences also may involve difficulty getting insurance. Only an attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and give you legal advice based on your individual situation.