What red blooded American male doesn’t like the movie “The Fast and the Furious?” How can you not love the speed and adrenaline provided as the hopped up cars do things seemingly impossible. Consequently, movies like this inspire thousands of people to buy a similar car and do their best to imitate the movie as they zing down the highways of Pinellas County. As the street racing practice evolved, illegal drag strips have been established and through word of mouth, people have learned where and when to go in order to see these rocket ships fly up and down the road. Like any other car loving American male, I agree that the spectacle these cars provide is entertaining, if not amazing. Based on the number of these cars on the street everyday, I’m not the only one that thinks fast, nimble cars are intriguing.
To spectators’ surprise and dismay, St. Petersburg local police departments organized two stings in 2009 in which they blocked off any reasonable method for escape and cited and/or arrested both active racing participants and those observing street racing that occurred near Fourth Street North. The individuals who were active racing participants were either cited or arrested for “Racing on the Highway,” a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of not less than $500 but not more than $1000. Equally as punitive is the fact that if a plea is entered, regardless of whether it’s an adjudication of guilt or a withhold of adjudication, the defendant will receive a one year revocation of their driver’s license by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Despite the penalties suffered by the active racers, it was the spectators that received the biggest surprise of the evening. Never being behind a wheel of one of the racecars, spectators in attendance could be and likely were given a civil traffic infraction with the possibility of receiving 3 points on their driving record. According to Florida Statute 316.191, a “Spectator” is any person who is knowingly present at and views a drag race, when such presence is the result of an affirmative choice to attend or participate in the race. For purposes of determining whether or not an individual is a spectator, finders of fact shall consider the relationship between the racer and the individual, evidence of gambling or betting on the outcome of the race, and any other factor that would tend to show knowing attendance or participation. In plain English, if you are there to watch the race, you can and will get a ticket.
But is this fair? As a Pinellas criminal attorney, my opinion is that it’s ludicrous. Clearly Florida’s Legislature elected to include this recent “spectator” addition as a policy decision to prevent people from encouraging racers. Cut the fans out and the racers have no one to show off to. Will the legislators and police’s efforts work? Probably not, as any policy decision to dissuade American’s from doing something they are hell bent on doing, typically works about as well as creating a lead airplane. In the end, street racing is so popular that people will inevitably play the riverboat gambler and do it until they get caught.
If you find yourself charged with racing, or merely being a spectator at a race, it would behoove you to look into the prospect of hiring an attorney who understands both the direct and collateral penalties involved in charges like this. Nobody wants a criminal record, and for damn sure nobody wants to lose their license for a year. Furthermore, it’s never a good idea to allow points to accumulate on your driving record either. Too many points in too short a time and you can watch your driving privilege race away. Bet on the fact that once your insurance company learns of the points on your license, your buddies at State Farm or that Geico lizard will be raising those rates! When they find out you are a street racing enthusiast, expect them to go even higher.
Bottom line, it’s risky business if you choose to race or watch illegal racing. Officer friendly almost always gets his man, and they’re pretty good at what they do in the Tampa Bay area. However, if you do get sparked with a race related charge, pick up the phone and give us a call. We might just save your license.