Exhibition of Speed and Street Racing Violations

State laws prohibit exhibitions of speed and drag racing on public streets. Learn more about how these crimes are defined and the penalties you'll face if you're convicted.

By , J.D.
Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 1/04/2023

For obvious safety reasons, most states have laws that prohibit dangerous driving like street racing, drag racing, peeling out, spinning donuts, and other maneuvers designed to show off speed on public roads.

This article explains how state laws define exhibition of speed and street racing offenses and some of the possible penalties for convictions.

What Is an "Exhibition of Speed"?

The exact definition of "exhibition of speed" varies from state to state, but the term generally refers to all of the ways drivers draw attention to their car's ability to accelerate. Examples of exhibitions of speed in most states include drivers who intentionally:

  • accelerate rapidly (peel out)
  • screech or squeal tires
  • cause unnecessary engine noise
  • slide when accelerating or braking, and
  • accelerate while driving in a tight circle (doing donuts).

Some exhibitions of speed might also be charged as reckless driving.

What Is "Street Racing"?

All states ban people from participating in "street racing" (also called "drag racing" or "speed contests"). This type of driving typically involves vehicles racing against each other or a timing device on a public street, highway, or freeway.

Several driving behaviors can be evidence that someone is racing a vehicle, including:

  • rapid acceleration
  • high speeds
  • simultaneous starting with another vehicle
  • driving side-by-side with another car, and
  • unsafe lane changes.

The gist of illegal racing is competition—where there isn't a contest the crime hasn't occurred. So, two drivers simply traveling close to each other and well above the speed limit usually won't be a racing violation. On the other hand, if witnesses see the drivers repeatedly glance at each other and dart in and out of traffic lanes, a street racing conviction is likely.

Is Drag Racing Illegal?

Not all forms of racing are illegal. Organized drag races that take place on closed tracks are legal. Any unsanctioned race that takes place on a public road, highway, or freeway is dangerous and illegal.

Some racetracks, such as Sonoma Raceway in California, have programs that offer people a safe, legal chance to drag race their cars on a closed track.

Can I Get in Trouble for Watching a Street Race?

In most states, you can get in trouble for participating in a street race and for aiding and abetting a street race. Aiding and abetting a street race means that you helped or encouraged the race. For example, if you helped prepare for the race by blocking off the street or agreed to help time the race you could be charged and punished the same as the drivers who participated in the race.

Penalties for Exhibition of Speed and Street Racing Violations

The penalties for exhibitions of speed and street racing vary by state. Most violations are infractions or misdemeanors, though offenses that involve serious injuries or deaths can be felonies. In many states, street racing is punished more severely than exhibitions of speed. Penalties typically increase when a driver has prior convictions for the same offense.

Jail Time and Fines for Exhibition of Speed and Drag Racing

Fine amounts. Citations for exhibitions of speed or street racing almost always result in fines. Fines are typically about $50 to $500 for infractions, $100 to $1,000 for misdemeanors, and $1,000 or more for felonies.

Jail sentences. As an infraction, an exhibition of speed or drag racing ticket doesn't carry any jail time. But if the 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 a year or more behind bars.

License Suspension or Revocation for Exhibition of Speed and Drag Racing

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.

Traffic Violation Points for Exhibition of Speed and Drag Racing

Exhibitions 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.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been charged with an exhibition of speed or street racing, talk to a lawyer. You shouldn't view these offenses the same as traffic tickets. A conviction can lead to consequences, such as a driver's license suspension, that can interfere with your ability to work and take care of other responsibilities.

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. Only an attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and give you legal advice based on your situation.

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