Racing Crimes in Pinellas

Law enforcement officers throughout Pinellas County, FL, target drivers suspected of racing on the highway (often called “street racing”) in Pinellas County, FL. In recent years, Pinellas County has seen an increase in illegal street racing, prompting the sheriff to implement more proactive enforcement efforts.

For example, on April 24, 2023, the Public Information Officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department issued a press release regarding a major operation to shut down a street racing event occurring on the evening of Saturday, April 22, 2023.

Officers with the St. Petersburg Police Department, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and Florida Highway Patrol watched as dozens of people gathered in a parking lot between buildings at 11001 Roosevelt Blvd. The gathering was described as a “warmup,” with participants performing vehicle doughnuts and other dangerous street racing activities. According to the press release, the participants planned to move their vehicles to “take over” a major intersection in Pinellas County. Before that could occur, more than 50 patrol cruisers surrounded the event, resulting in 69 people being arrested and 23 vehicles being impounded.

The “Racing on Highways” crime in Section 316.191, Florida Statutes, involves an allegation of competitively driving a vehicle in a speed or acceleration contest, engaging in drag racing, or participating as a passenger or race facilitator.

The crime is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a hefty fine, and a driver’s license revocation. For a second or third offense within five years, the fine is higher, the driver’s license revocation is longer, and the officers might seize the vehicle for forfeiture.

Attorney for Racing in Pinellas County, FL

If you were charged with racing on highways or participating in a drag race violating Section 316.191 in Pinellas County, FL, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm.

Our attorneys represent clients on various criminal traffic crimes in Pinellas County, including DUI, DWLS, reckless driving, racing, and fleeing to elude.

Street racing can involve cars, motorcycles, and other motor vehicles. If you were accused of engaging in prearranged or spontaneous competitions on the roadways (including any highway, street, or parking lot), find a good lawyer to help you fight the criminal charge.

Visit our office at 14010 Roosevelt Blvd Suite 701, Clearwater, FL 33762-3820, near the Criminal Justice Center (CJC) courthouse. 

Don’t face the judge alone. Contact our experienced criminal defense lawyers in Pinellas County, FL, who can represent you on charges of being a driver, spectator, or facilitator of a street or drag race in Pinellas County, FL.

Call 727-210-7004. 

Elements of Street or Drag Racing in Florida

Florida prohibitions against illegal street racing recognize the dangers to participants, bystanders, and property. Under Florida’s street racing statute, the term “race” is defined to mean the following:

  • the use of one or more motor vehicles in competition;
  • arising from a challenge to demonstrate the superiority of a motor vehicle or driver;
  • the acceptance of competitive response to that challenge, either through a prior arrangement or in immediate response; and
  • 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.

Under Florida law, 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.

Under Section 316.191(2), Florida law prohibits a person from:

  • Driving any motor vehicle, including any motorcycle, in any race, speed competition or contest, drag race or acceleration contest, a test of physical endurance, or exhibition of speed or acceleration or for the purpose of making a speed record on any highway, roadway, or parking lot;
  • In any manner, participate in, coordinate, facilitate, or collect money at any location for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition;
  • Knowingly ride as a passenger in any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; or
  • Purposefully cause the movement of traffic to slow or stop for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition.

Of course, Florida’s prohibition against street racing does not apply to licensed or duly authorized racetracks, drag strips, or other designated areas set aside by proper authorities for such purposes.

Florida’s Definitions for Crimes of Drag Racing

Under Florida’s statute prohibiting racing on highways, the term “drag race” is defined to mean:

  • the operation of one or more motor vehicles over a commonly selected course, from the same point to the same point, for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of such motor vehicle or motor vehicles within a certain distance or time limit; or
  • the operation of two or more motor vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speeds in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other.

The term “spectator” means 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.

To determine whether an individual is a spectator, the jury is instructed to consider the following:

  • 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.

Florida law prohibits a person from being a spectator at an illegal drag race. A violation is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation, as provided in chapter 318.

Penalties for Racing on Highways in Florida

A violation of the racing on highways statute is charged as a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine with a minimum mandatory fine of $500 and a one-year driver’s license revocation. The driver can request a hardship hearing pursuant to Section 322.271.

A second violation of the racing on highways statute within five (5) years of a prior violation that resulted in a conviction is still charged as a misdemeanor of the first degree. Still, it comes with a higher fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $3,000 and a 2-year driver’s license revocation with an option for a hardship hearing under s. 322.271.

A third subsequent violation of the racing on highways statute within five (5) years after the date of a prior violation is still charged as a misdemeanor of the first degree. Still, the fine is not less than $2,000 and not more than $5,000 with a four-year driver’s license revocation and the option for a hardship hearing.

As an additional penalty, the court can order an impoundment or immobilization of the vehicle driven during the offense as a condition of incarceration or probation.

Additionally, the arresting officer is permitted to impound the vehicle for a period of 30 business days if a law enforcement officer has arrested and taken a person into custody for racing and the person being arrested is the registered owner or co-owner of the motor vehicle.

Seizure and Forfeiture of Vehicles for Racing

In some cases, a vehicle might be seized for forfeiture under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act if any person used the motor vehicle within five (5) years after the date of a prior conviction for racing.

If you received a notice of seizure for forfeiture from a law enforcement officer with an agency in Pinellas County, hire an attorney to demand an adverse preliminary hearing within 15 days of the seizure.

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm understand the best ways to fight forfeiture for racing crimes by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Pinellas Park Police Department, the Clearwater Police Department, or the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Racing as an Exception to the Warrantless Arrest Rule

The Florida legislature recently made crimes for racing on highways an exception to the warrantless arrest requirements. Section 316.191(5) now provides that “[w]henever a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a person violated subsection (2) [of the racing on highways statute], the officer may arrest and take such person into custody without a warrant.”

Before the change, an officer making a warrantless arrest of a person for “racing on highways” needed evidence that the offense was committed in his or her presence if the officer arrests the person immediately or in fresh pursuit after viewing the offense.

In the case of a traffic offense, a fellow officer who did not personally witness the offense may also arrest a person based on the witnessing officer’s observations.

So before the recent changes, to arrest for a racing offense, an officer was required to:

  • arrest either immediately or in fresh pursuit after witnessing the offense;
  • arrest pursuant to a fellow officer’s observations and arrest either immediately or in fresh pursuit; or
  • secure an arrest warrant.

Under the old rule, the only exceptions to the warrant requirement were for offenses occurring in the presence of an officer which prohibited a warrantless arrest based only on a civilian witness’s report.

So before the 2019 changes, when a witness calls the police about a spontaneous street race, the race may likely end before police respond. As a practical matter, obtaining an arrest warrant to timely address the complaint was difficult.

Effective July 1, 2019, CS/HB 611 allowed an officer to make a warrantless arrest of a person if the officer has probable cause to believe he or she committed a racing offense, even if the officer didn’t witness the incident.

This article was last updated on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.