Street racing is a crime in Texas, but the types of charges a driver faces, such as racing vehicles on a highway or reckless driving, will depend on the circumstances of their case. They can face more severe charges if someone gets hurt or dies as the result of a street race, and in some Texas cities, people can even get in trouble just for watching a race. Driving at slightly higher speeds increases the possibility of injury or death dramatically, according to a study by AAA. Speeding is also on the rise in Texas – there were more than 1,200 fatal crashes caused by speeding vehicles in 2020 alone, a 15 percent increase from 2019.
Defining Street Racing Under Texas Law
Texas Transportation Code 545.420 defines street racing as:
- A speed competition or contest between vehicles.
- An acceleration contest or drag race.
- A test of a vehicle operator's physical endurance in conjunction with a drag race, a show of speed or acceleration, or an attempt to make a speed record.
The state defines a "drag race" as a race between two or more vehicles traveling side by side at an accelerated speed in an attempt to overtake or pass each other over a specific distance or time. It is also a race consisting of one or more vehicles traveling over a shared course to compare vehicle speeds or acceleration over a specific distance or time. One or more cars take part in a race to:
- Out-gain or outdistance other vehicles or prevent them from passing.
- Arrive at a destination ahead of other vehicles going to the same place.
- Test the driver's stamina or endurance over a long-distance route.
Penalties for Street Racing in Texas
A driver found guilty of street racing can face either misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the circumstances of their case. For their first offense, a driver will usually face a Class B misdemeanor which carries a maximum jail sentence of 180 days and a $2,000 fine.
A previous street racing conviction, injury, intoxication or open container during the race may result in a Class A misdemeanor for the driver, which carries a maximum of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. If the driver has been convicted twice before for street racing, they will face a state jail felony charge, which carries a sentence of 180 days to two years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
If someone suffers bodily injury due to a street race, offenders may face a third-degree felony which carries a two- to 10-year prison sentence with fines of up to $10,000. If the injury is severe enough or someone dies as a result of the race, drivers can face second-degree felony charges, which carry a two to 20 years prison sentence with fines of up to $10,000.
License Suspension and Vehicle Seizure
Not only will a driver convicted of a street racing charge face jail time and fines, but they will also face the possibility of a driver's license suspension of one year. To regain their license, they must complete 10 hours of community service as a requirement of the Texas Transportation Code.
A street racing offender caught driving on an already suspended license faces a one-year suspension which begins on the date of the violation. Driving under suspension jeopardizes the possibility of having an early license reinstatement. Law enforcement can also seize an alleged street racer's vehicle if property damage or personal injury occurred during the race.
Reckless Driving Charge and Street Racing
Street racers can face charges of reckless driving as well. The Texas Transportation Code states that this type of charge is possible if an individual drives with or has wanton disregard for the safety of other people or property.
In Texas, reckless driving laws apply to public highways, roads and even parking lots and garages. A reckless driving charge is usually a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $200.
Watching Street Racing in Texas
In some Texas cities, even watching a street race is illegal. For example, in April 2021, Fort Worth City Ordinance Section 22-362 made it a crime for anyone to watch a street race in certain locations:
- On a public street or highway.
- While at an exhibition of reckless driving on a public highway, street or off-street parking facility.
- Where preparations for a street race occur.
- Where preparations for an exhibition of reckless driving occur.
A person who watches street racing in a municipality that has made it illegal can face up to $500 in fines. Exemptions to this law are police officers and media working in an official capacity at the time of the race. It is also legal for spectators to attend officially sanctioned, licensed or authorized racing events.
Texas Cities Crack Down on Street Racing
Many cities in Texas, such as Fort Worth and Dallas, have taken measures to prevent illegal street racing. This includes deploying unmarked police cars in areas where street racing occurs. They have also installed cameras in these areas, as well as speed bumps and LIDAR detectors to identify and deter racers.
In Dallas, law enforcement hopes to implement Operation Road Diet, which will cut out traffic altogether in areas where street racing is an issue, leaving the roads open only for bike lanes and pedestrians. The city of Desoto, Texas, has taken to using drones to identify and deter street racing suspects in that municipality.
- D Magazine: Street Racing in Dallas Nearly Doubled During the Pandemic
- Fort Worth Texas: Street Racing
- Varghese Summersett PLLC: Is Street Racing Illegal in Texas?
- Find Law: Texas Transportation Code - TRANSP § 545.420. Racing on Highway
- AAA: AAA Texas: New Crash Tests Reveal Modest Speed Increases Can Have Deadly Consequences
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.