WA State Passes New Law to Deter Illegal Street Racing

Washington has passed a new law addressing illegal street racing that went into effect January 1, 2024. The law was passed in direct response to the uptick of reckless driving throughout our state.

The new law accomplishes the following: 

  • Expands the legal definition of street racing to include dangerous demonstrations, including intersection takeovers.
  • Prohibits reckless driving at “offsite” locations such as parking lots and parking garages.
  • Places a 72-hour hold on cars impounded from reckless driving.
  • Authorizes law enforcement to seize cars permanently after a second conviction of reckless driving.
  • Provides penalties for those who aid or abet reckless drivers.
  • Allows law enforcement to educate the public about the dangers and consequences of illegal street racing.

We’ll explain each of these in greater detail.

The Rise of Intersection Takeovers in Tacoma – and Elsewhere

Our Marketing Director, Angela, witnessed an upsetting event last summer.

“One Sunday afternoon, I was driving home with my daughter and stopped at a busy intersection in Fife. Suddenly, I noticed a car doing donuts in the middle of the intersection. As I was in the center lane and had cars all around me, there was nothing I could do but wait it out,” she describes. “Thankfully, it ended soon, and no one was hurt. But it was scary because I felt I was at the mercy of those who were being reckless and clearly had no value for others.”

Intersection takeovers, like the one Angela witnessed, are on the rise in the greater Tacoma area. In fact, Tacoma Mayor Woodwards reported that there were 150 such incidents in Pierce County between January and March 2022 alone. And it’s not just Tacoma. Across our state and country, similar events are happening in record numbers.

These dangerous incidents pose threats to the public, such as:

  • Property damage
  • Risk of personal injury and death
  • Business disruptions
  • Street closures
  • Excessive noise

Additionally, law enforcement has noted that these events often go hand-in-hand with other criminal activities such as assault, illegal gambling, armed robbery, and even homicide.

The brief YouTube video below illustrates the impacts of street racing.

The New Law Expands Definition of “Street Racing”

The law that went into effect on January 1, 2024, directly addresses the intersection takeover events and other reckless exhibitions by expanding the definitions of two current laws.

#1. Reckless Driving Now Includes Maneuvers such as Drifting.

Previously, illegal street racing meant two cars in competition, using excessive speed. RCW 46.61.530 now expands the definition of reckless driving to include dangerous maneuvers such as drifting, with or without the use of speed.

#2. It’s Now Illegal to Drive Recklessly at Off-Site Facilities. 

Before, the law prohibited drivers from racing their vehicles on public roads. Now, the law has expanded to include off-site facilities, such as private parking lots. (The exception would be if the owner has granted the drivers permission to use their property for this purpose.)

In other words, drivers can now be charged with reckless driving if they are involved in an intersection takeover or performing oversteering maneuvers in a parking lot.

Under New Law, You Could Lose Your Car for Illegal Racing

The new law also allows law enforcement to impound, or potentially seize, a reckless driver’s vehicle.

Here’s what you should know about Washington’s new law:

  • Under the old law, police could have a reckless driver’s vehicle impounded. However, the driver would be able to retrieve the vehicle right away.
  • Under the new law, there is a 72-hour hold on all vehicles impounded from reckless driving. This will take that vehicle off the streets for a few days.
  • Furthermore, the new law states that a driver with a second reckless driving conviction forfeits their car.

There is an important exception to the new law. If it turns out that the registered owner of the vehicle was not involved with the reckless driving incident, they may retrieve it.

Criminal Charges for Illegal Street Racing

It’s important to understand that the new law does not change the criminal charges associated with street racing. A reckless driving charge is a gross misdemeanor in the State of Washington. This carries a maximum penalty of a 365-day imprisonment and/or up to a $5,000 fine (RCW 46.61.500).

The lawmakers made it clear that the goal of Senate Bill 5606 was not to impose harsher prison sentences for reckless drivers. Rather, it’s aimed at prevention. If a driver suspects they might lose their vehicle, they might decide it just isn’t worth the risk.

However, it’s important to remember that someone who is charged with a gross misdemeanor for reckless driving can still be charged with additional crimes.

Charges for Aiding and Abetting Street Racing

As of January 1, 2024, it’s also illegal to aid or abet a reckless driver (RCW 46.61.530).

This is an additional way lawmakers are hoping to deter events such as intersection takeovers from happening in the first place.

Greater Education and Awareness

Representative John Lovick (D), the primary sponsor of the Bill, made it clear that one of the key goals of the new law would be a public awareness campaign. To be most effective, most of the educational efforts may be targeted at youth. Studies show that most of those involved are in the young adult demographic (ages 18-25).

It will be interesting to observe how the law plays out. Campaigns may pull in high schools or driver’s education courses throughout the state. It’s possible we’ll also see social media campaigns, posters, or billboards. No matter what, expect the campaigns to be focused on the dangers and consequences of illegal street racing.

Victim of Reckless Driving?

If you were injured due to a reckless driver, please reach out. It’s always free to speak with one of our Tacoma car accident lawyers. In fact, we only charge a fee if we’re able to win you a settlement.

To get started, fill out the short form on our contact page or call us at (253) 272-5226.

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