The pandemic caused a dramatic increase in drag racing. There are a few reasons for this. The highways were emptier. People had more time to customize and work on their vehicles. And bars and clubs were closed, forcing people to seek other places to socialize.
Georgia was certainly not exempt from this surge. In February 2020, Atlanta Police Department reported 36 calls related to drag racing. In October (during the height of the pandemic) it received 568 similar calls.
In response to this dramatic increase, the State of Georgia has cracked down on offenses related to street racing. It created several new criminal statutes with stiff criminal penalties, and law enforcement agencies have stepped up enforcement around the state.
Here’s what you need to know.
What are the changes to the drag racing laws?
Promoting or Organizing an Illegal Drag Race is a high and aggravated misdemeanor. It carries a possible sentence of up to 12 months in jail, plus a fine of up to $5,000 (plus court costs and fees). You can read more about this offense in my full article here.
Reckless Stunt Driving (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390.1) is also a high and aggravated misdemeanor. A first conviction will result in a jail sentence of 10 days – 6 months, plus a fine of $300 – $750. Subsequent convictions result in even steeper punishments, including possible vehicle forfeiture. You can read about those in my article here. Notably, even a first conviction will result in a license suspension.
In addition to these new statewide laws, cities are also cracking down on street racing-related offenses. In 2020, the City of Atlanta passed a local ordinance that bans being present at an illegal street race to actively participate in the event. Prohibited acts include:
- Riding in the car as a passenger,
- Assisting organizers in carrying out or organizing the event,
- Exchanging money or anything of value with a driver, car owner, or another participant in connection with the event.
Violators can face a jail term of up to 6 months and a minimum fine of $1,000.
Early versions of this local ordinance suggested criminalizing merely being a bystander at drag racing events. Several news outlets ran this story, which created confusion about what the new ordinance actually prohibits. However, in the final version of the ordinance, mere bystanders, passersby, or observers are not deemed to be participants for purposes of this city ordinance.
In addition to the new laws, police agencies are also stepping up their enforcement of street racing-related offenses.
Departments around the state are conducting frequent multi-agency sting operations, like this one in Gwinnett County that resulted in more than 80 arrests.
They also use advanced tools such as air units (including helicopters and drones) to detect and surveil drag racing events.
Finally, police are using social media as an investigative tool. Last summer, police around Metro Atlanta arrested four individuals they claim were involved in organizing street races. These cases are still pending, so not all the facts have been released. However, it appears that the police relied on social media as an investigative tool. Remember, what you post online is not private, and it can be used against you.
Of course, these individuals are innocent until proven guilty, so it’s important not to assume that the police have the right people or that the individuals arrested committed a crime.
If you are charged with a street racing-related offense, call me today.
Because of the statewide crackdown against these offenses, prosecutors and judges are taking these charges very seriously.
Five years ago, if you pled out to a racing charge, you would probably be looking at a fine. Now, jail time is a serious possibility. But you shouldn’t panic. These cases are winnable. As your Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer, I search for every possible defense. I use every negotiation tactic in my toolbox to ensure that you get the best possible outcome in your case.