Motor Vehicle Racing on a Highway

Update: Effective October 1, 2022, police officers no longer have to witness street racing to make a warrantless arrest.

Theoretically, an officer could now use videos posted on social media sites of local racing events to find vehicles, licensed plates, and people’s faces. That evidence could then be used to make a warrantless arrest for racing.

Contact a criminal defense lawyer at Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, FL, if you were arrested or given a citation (notice to appear) for the misdemeanor criminal charge of “racing” under Florida Statute 316.191. These crimes are also known as “racing on highways” or “illegal street racing.”

Street racing can involve cars, motorcycles, or other types of motor vehicles. This criminal charge is serious because a conviction will result in a suspension of your driver’s license and a dramatic increase in your insurance premiums for years to come.

In the past, prosecutors had difficulty proving the offense at trial, especially with no predetermined start and ending point. The racing statute was recently expanded to cover more than just racing. It now covers things like taking over a parking lot to perform stunts like doughnuts, making prosecutions easier,

Attorneys for Racing Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you were issued a citation for “Racing on Highway” in violation of Florida Statute Section 316.191(2)(a), seek out the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Your attorney may be able to attack the statute’s constitutionality as applied to the facts of your case by filing and litigating a motion to dismiss. Additionally, your attorney might file a motion to suppress illegally obtained evidence or exclude unduly prejudicial evidence.

In some cases, a plea deal can be negotiated for a less serious offense, such as reckless driving, with a withhold of adjudication so that no driver’s license suspension will occur and no points will be assessed on the driving record.

Visit our offices in downtown Tampa in Hillsborough County. We have additional offices in New Port Richey in Pasco County and Clearwater in Pinellas County, FL. Contact us today to speak with an attorney about the specific facts of your case and find the best way to fight this serious charge of street racing on Florida highways.

Call (813) 250-0500.

One-Year Automatic Suspension for Racing in Florida

If you enter a plea to racing, the court can either “withhold adjudication” or impose an “adjudication of guilt.” Even if the court withholds adjudication, the DHSMV will consider the withhold as a “conviction” for purposes of imposing the one-year suspension of the driver’s license.

You may be eligible to obtain hardship reinstatement privileges after a suspension for racing under Section 316.191. These requirements apply to spectators charged with illegal racing on the highway. The eligibility requirements to obtain a hardship license for this offense include the following:

  • submit an Application for Hardship License (HSMV 78306);
  • a $12.00 or $25.00 Filing Fee to be determined by B.A.R staff;
  • the hearing officer will conduct CCIS check/inquiry before the hearing; and
  • show proof of ADI School completion as required by §322.271(2)(a).

By hiring a criminal defense attorney to fight the charge, you might be able to get the citation dismissed or at least amended to a less serious charge so that you can avoid all of these serious consequences on your driving record.

Elements of Racing on Highway Charges

The statute penalizes the following individuals who allegedly participated in the alleged street racing or drag racing incident:

  1. The driver of the car, motorcycle, or any other motor vehicle;
  2. Any spectator;
  3. Anyone who facilitates, collects money, bets, coordinates, or otherwise participates in the street race or drag race;
  4. Anyone who “knowingly” rides as a passenger in such a race.
  5. Anyone who purposefully disrupts or redirects traffic to assist the street racers.

Furthermore, the Florida Legislature recently amended Section 901.15, F.S., by adding “racing on highways” under Section 316.191(5) to the list of statutory exceptions to the warrantless arrest rule.

In other words, if an officer has probable cause to believe that a person has committed a misdemeanor related to racing, a street takeover, or stunt driving, the officer may arrest the person without a warrant.

Points on the Driving Record for Racing in Florida

If you are convicted of racing on the highway in violation of most subsections of Florida Statute 316.191, you will receive four (4) points on your driving record. If you are convicted of racing on the highway as a spectator, you will receive three points on your driving record.

The points for each subsection of the racing statute are listed below:

  • 316.191(2)(a) – Racing on the highway – driving a motor vehicle – 4 points
  • 316.191(2)(b) – Racing on the highway  – coordinate, facilitate, and collect monies – 4 points
  • 316.191(2)(c) – Racing on the highway –  knowingly riding as a passenger – 4 points
  • 316.191(2)(d) – Racing on the highway – purposely stop or slow traffic – 4 points
  • 316.191(4)(a) – Racing on the highway – spectator – 3 points

Penalties and Punishment for Racing under Florida Law

First Offense of Racing – First Degree Misdemeanor

If you are the driver in a vehicle that is “racing,” you can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to twelve months in jail and a fine of $500 to $1,000 dollars.

The court can order a period of impoundment or immobilization of the driver’s vehicle.

Second Offense of Racing – Second Degree Misdemeanor

If you get cited again for racing within five (5) years of a prior conviction for racing, you will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $500 or more than $1,000.

The court can order a period of impoundment or immobilization of the driver’s vehicle. However, for the second offense, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will revoke your driver’s license for two years.

The Law Enforcement Officer Can Seize Your Vehicle for a Second Offense

Suppose you get cited again for racing within five (5) of a prior conviction for racing. In that case, a law enforcement officer may seize and attempt to forfeit your vehicle under the Contraband Forfeiture Act in Florida, assuming you are in a vehicle that you own.

Effective July 1, 2024, 2024 CS/SB 1764 amends Section 316.191(1), F.S., to:

  • increase the fine for a first offense violation from $500 to $1,000, to $500 to $2,000;
  • decrease the time period during which a second violation of s. 316.191(2), F.S., will result in an enhanced penalty, from within five years after the date of a prior violation that resulted in conviction, to within one year of such violation;
    • increases the penalty for such a violation from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony;
    • increases the fine for such a violation from $1,000 to $3,000, to $2,500 to $4,000.

Street Race on Florida Highways as Defined Under Florida Law

The term “drag race” is generally defined under Florida law as the operation of vehicles that start out side by side and then accelerate rapidly in a competitive attempt to out-distance each other or to beat the other vehicle to a certain designed endpoint or finish line.

The statute references very vague terms such as “comparing the relative speeds” or comparing the “power of acceleration” within a time limit or certain distance.

The definition of the term “race” is equally vague. The statute refers to “challenge to demonstrate the superiority of a motor vehicle” or “competitive response to a challenge.”

The statute also refers to attempts to “outdistance” or “outgain” another vehicle. Other vague terms under the statute refer to “physical stamina” or endurance tests over long-distance driving routes.

Most troubling, the statute refers to a subjective standard when determining whether an individual is guilty of the offense. Consider the last line of the definition of racing, which states:

A [street] race may be prearranged or may occur through a competitive response to conduct on the part of one or more drivers which, under the totality of the circumstances, can reasonably be interpreted as a challenge to race.

Effective July 1, 2024, 2024 CS/SB 1764 amends Section 316.191(1), F.S., to define the term “Coordinated street takeover” to mean 10 or more vehicles operated in an organized manner to effect a street takeover.

Spectators to Illegal Street Racing or Drag Racing Events in Florida

Florida law criminalizes any person present at a street race or drag racing event. However, the prosecutor must prove that the “spectator” attended the street race due to an “affirmative choice.”

In determining whether the spectator attended the race knowingly, the prosecutor may attempt to show the following:

  1. The relationship between the street racers and the spectators;
  2. Evidence of betting or gambling on the outcome of the street race; or
  3. Other factors might indicate the spectator knew that a street race was occurring.

Constitutionality of Florida Statute § 316.191

In response to a challenge by criminal defense attorneys that Florida Statute Section 316.191 is unconstitutional on its face and as applied, the prosecutor with the State Attorney’s Office in Florida will often argue that the defendant’s actions involve an “element of competition.”

The prosecutor will attempt to distinguish the problems in the prior version of the statute by pointing out that the current version of the racing statute was amended and has been in effect since 2010. See Fla. Stat. Ann. § 316.191(2010).

Prior courts found the statute unconstitutional because it failed to include an “element of competition” in its definition of “race.” State v. Wells, 965 So. 2d 834, 839 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). However, the current version of the statute addresses this concern because the definition of a “race” now distinctly includes an “element of competition.”

The statute now provides that “race” means the use of one or more motor vehicles in competition, arising from a challenge to demonstrate [the] superiority of a motor vehicle or driver and the acceptance or competitive response to that challenge, either through a prior arrangement or in immediate response, in which the competitor attempts to outgain or outdistance another motor vehicle, to prevent another motor vehicle from passing, to arrive at a given destination ahead of another motor vehicle or motor vehicles, or to test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long-distance driving routes.

A race may be prearranged or may occur through a competitive response to conduct on the part of one or more drivers, which, under the totality of the circumstances, can reasonably be interpreted as a challenge to race.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 3 16.191 (1)(c) (2010) (emphasis added).

Additionally, courts have examined the current version of the statute and found it constitutional because the statute, read as a whole, could not be applied unless vehicles were “competing” against one another. Reaves v. State, 979 So. 2d 1066, 1072 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008).

Finally, the prosecutor will often argue that the statute is not unconstitutional as applied to the facts of the case at hand because section 316.19 fairly proscribes the Defendant’s conduct in the case, which is encompassed by the definition of “racing” and is expressly prohibited by section 316.191 (2)(a) and (2)(d).

Completing the Driver Improvement Course

Need another reason to avoid a conviction for racing? If you are convicted, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) will automatically notify you that you must complete a driver improvement course after a conviction for 316.191 Racing on the Highway. This requirement applies even though it was not ordered by the court or mentioned at the sentencing hearing.

If you fail to complete the course within 90 days after receiving notice from the department, the department will cancel your driver’s license until the course is completed. § 322.0261(4)(a), Fla. Stat. (2014).

Crimes for “Street Takeover” or “Stunt Driving” in Florida

The Florida legislature recently considered 2022 SB 876 entitled “stunt driving on highways,” which would prohibit “stunt driving” or participating in a “street takeover.” What is a street takeover? The term “street takeover” involves many cars gathering at a predetermined location near the roadway.

Some of the vehicles are used to block off the roadway at an intersection. Then, other vehicles will enter the roadway to perform stunts like doughnuts, burnouts, wheelies, drifting, or other activities that are likely to interfere with, startle, distract, or delay other roadway users or highway users.

Law enforcement officers have a hard time enforcing the law at these events because of the number of cars involved and the size of the gathering. When law enforcement arrives, the participants, bystanders, and drivers leave quickly. Law enforcement officers consider such events to be dangerous because of injuries and even fatalities that have occurred in Florida.

With the passage of 2022 SB 876, the Florida legislature amended Section 316.191, F.S.,  by creating three new first degree misdemeanor offenses for racing, including:

  • operating a vehicle to film or record the activities of participants in any race, drag race, street takeover, stunt driving, competition, contest, test, or exhibition with an exception for bona fide members of the news media;
  • operating a vehicle carrying any amount of fuel to fuel a vehicle involved in any race, drag race, street takeover, stunt driving, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; or
  • operating a vehicle in a manner that would constitute participation in a street takeover.

Evidence of the filming or recording of a drag race or street takeover, or posting of such event on social media, may be used to determine if a person was a spectator at such event.

For purposes of the new legislation, the term “burnout” is defined as “a maneuver performed while operating a motor vehicle whereby the vehicle is kept stationary, or is in motion, while the wheels are spun, the resulting friction causing the vehicle’s tires to heat up and emit smoke.

The term “doughnut” is defined as a “maneuver performed while operating a motor vehicle whereby the front or rear of the vehicle is rotated around the opposite set of wheels in a continuous motion  which may cause a circular skid-mark pattern of rubber on the driving surface or the tires to heat up and emit smoke from friction, or both.”

“Drifting” is “a maneuver performed while operating a motor vehicle whereby the vehicle is steered so that it makes a controlled skid sideways through a turn with the front wheels pointed in a direction opposite to that of the turn.”

The term “wheelie” is “a maneuver performed while operating a motor vehicle whereby a motorcycle or other motor vehicle is ridden for a distance with the front wheel or wheels raised off the ground.”

HCSO’s 8-hour operation targeting street racing crimes

On Saturday night, May 13, 2023, deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (“HCSO”) conducted an 8-hour operation targeting street racing crimes known as “Operation Flex.” The event resulted in 110 total stops, 14 citations, 52 warnings, and 8 arrests.

TPD’s Street Racing Operation – 1/27/23-1/29/23

On January 30, 2023, the Tampa Police Department released a statement regarding 14 arrests in a street racing operation from Friday, January 27, through Sunday, January 29, 2023. The operation was planned to dismantle a planned street racing event. Officers became aware of an event circulating on social media dubbed the “Tampa vs Everybody” takeover.

According to those social media postings, participants met at various locations throughout Tampa, Hillsborough County, and surrounding areas of Tampa Bay to street race or perform vehicle stunts in the roadways, such as “donuts” in front of spectators.

So far, fourteen (14) people have been arrested for charges of racing on highways, fleeing to elude police, aggravated fleeing to elude, carrying a concealed firearm, possession of a controlled substance, and discharging a destructive device mortar launcher.

Finding an Attorney for Racing in Hillsborough County, FL

Contact our criminal defense attorney in Tampa for any citation for the traffic misdemeanor of “racing on the highway” in Tampa or Plant City in Hillsborough County, Clearwater or St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Brooksville in Hernando County, Bartow in Polk County, New Port Richey or Dade City in Pasco County, FL.

We also represent clients on related traffic crimes, including reckless driving and the more serious offense of vehicular homicide when a person dies in a crash. Contact us after an arrest for:

  • driving any vehicle in a race on the highway, road, or parking lot (316.191(2)(a));
  • participating in or coordinating a race (316.191(2)(b));
  • knowingly riding as a passenger in a race (316.191(2)(c)); or
  • slowing or stopping traffic for a race (316.191(2)(d)).

Our attorneys also represent clients on felony and misdemeanor offenses in Tampa, FL, and throughout Hillsborough County, FL.  Contact us today to discuss your driving or traffic offenses.

Call (813) 250-0500.

This article was last updated on Friday, May 10, 2024.