Engaging in a Speed Contest

Under California law, it is illegal to engage in a speed contest with motor vehicles on public streets or highways. This offense is commonly called a “street race,” “speed race,” or “drag race.”

Even spectators of a street race can be cited for engaging, aiding or participating. A spectator is a person who watches or is present at an illegal speed contest or at a location (public street or highway, or private property) where preparations are being made for such activities if the person is present for the purpose of viewing, observing, watching, or witnessing the event.

Law enforcement officers even set up street-racing stings and impound dozens of vehicles at a time. In addition to street racing, officers issue citations for “sideshows” in which cars are driven in circles at high speeds.

Related motor vehicle crimes including reckless driving, the exhibition of speed, and driving while license suspended.

Attorney for Speed Contests in San Francisco, CA

If you were cited for engaging in a speed contest as a perpetrator or as a spectator, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Ticket Crushers. Call today to discuss any civil or criminal traffic citation related to street racing in the City of San Francisco or throughout the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), if a vehicle is impounded for speed racing, the towing, storage, and possible lien fees can bring the cost up to $1,100. An attorney can help you contest the vehicle impoundment and fight the underlying criminal charge.

Call 1 (866) 842-5384 today to talk to an attorney about your case.


Elements of Speed Contests under California Vehicle Code, § 23109

The criminal offense of Engaging in a Speed Contest under California Vehicle Code, § 23109(c), (e)(2), (f)(1)–(3) contains the following elements:

  • The defendant drove a motor vehicle on a highway;
  • While so driving, the defendant willfully engaged in a speed contest; and
  • The speed contest was a substantial factor in causing someone other than the defendant to suffer either serious bodily injury or bodily injury.

California law provides that someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. The law does not require that the defendant either:

  • Intended to break the law;
  • Intended to hurt someone else; or
  • Intended to gain any advantage.

A person engages in a speed contest when he or she uses a motor vehicle to race against another vehicle, a clock, or other timing devices.

Under California law, a speed contest does not include an event in which the participants measure the time required to cover a set route of more than 20 miles but where the vehicle does not exceed the speed limits.


Speed Contest Causing Serious Bodily Injury

The penalties are enhanced if the driver engaging in speed racing cause serious bodily injury to another. The statute, California  Vehicle Code, § 23109.1, provides that the offense shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than 30 days nor more than six months, or by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by both that fine and imprisonment.

For purposes of the statute for engaging in a speed contest, the term “serious bodily injury” is defined as a serious impairment of physical condition. A serious bodily injury may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Loss of consciousness;
  • Concussion;
  • Bone fracture;
  • Protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ;
  • A wound requiring extensive suturing; and
  • Serious disfigurement.

For purposes of the speed contest statute, the term “motor vehicle” is defined to specifically include the following:

  • Passenger vehicle;
  • Motorcycle;
  • Bus;
  • School bus;
  • Commercial vehicle; and
  • Truck tractor.

For purposes of motor vehicle offenses, the term highway describes any area publicly maintained and open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel and includes a street. Related offenses include aiding and abetting a speed contest under Vehicle Code section 23109(b) when another person actually perpetrated the elements of the offense.


The History of Street Racing Crimes in California

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that 5,749 teens died in the United States in 1999 from motor vehicle injuries. Additionally, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 16 and 20.

The street racing culture was glamorized in the movie “The Fast and the Furious,” released in 2001. That year was also saw a sharp increase in fatal crashes involving speed contests in California. Soon after, law enforcement officers began to crack down on street racing events and the Legislature created very harsh penalties.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, more than 800 citations were issued in 2001 for illegal street racing in California. Although the number of statewide collisions where a violation of CVC § 23109 was the Primary Collision Factor (PCF), officers and prosecutors still treat these cases very seriously.

The jury instructions for vehicle offenses such as reckless driving and speed contests are set out in CALCRIM 2201, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instruction 2201, which were updated in March of 2016.


Penalties for Street Racing under CVC § 23109

Under California law, the penalties for street racing include:

  • Being arrested for a criminal offense;
  • Having your vehicle impounded for 30 days;
  • Facing up to three months in jail if you are convicted of either street racing or aiding and abetting another in a street race;
  • Fines of up to $1,000;
  • A driver’s license revocation; or
  • A dramatic increase in your insurance premiums (if your insurance is not canceled).

Even spectators of racing events are subject to the same penalties.


Additional Resources

Speed Contest Crimes in California — Visit the website of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) which explains speed contest crimes to young drivers who are most at risk for fatal motor vehicle crashes. Find statistics on the number of teens killed each year in the United States from motor vehicle injuries and the approaches used by law enforcement officers to reduce that number.


Finding an Attorney for Street Racing Crimes in San Francisco, CA

If you were charged with any criminal offense for street racing including engaging in a speed contest under California Vehicle Code, §§ 23109(c), (e)(2), (f)(1)-(3), then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Ticket Crushers. Our traffic ticket attorneys also represent clients on traffic tickets for speeding in San Francisco, CA.

We can help you with the impoundment of the vehicle. Contact us to learn more about fighting the underlying citation for street racing or other related civil infractions and criminal citations.

Call 1 (866) 842-5384 today to discuss your case.