Street racing (speed contest) in California
Participating in a vehicular speed contest – more commonly known as street racing — is a serious offense under California Vehicle Code 23109(a).
Under California law, a speed contest is any race that occurs between at least two vehicles, or against a clock or timing device. A conviction for a speed contest offense can result in substantial criminal penalties, including jail time, and a loss of driving privileges.
Street racing — or participating in a vehicular speed contest — is a serious offense under California law because of the potential for injury to others and/or property damage. A conviction under California Vehicle Code 23109(a) VC can result in substantial criminal penalties and a loss of driving privileges.
For purposes of this statute, a speed contest is any race that occurs between at least two vehicles, or against a clock or timing device. Under California law, a speed contest need not be an organized or planned race; it may occur spontaneously without any prior indication.
Elements of the crime
To obtain a successful conviction for an unlawful speed contest under 23109(a) VC, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
- The defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public street, road, highway, or freeway.
- The defendant willfully drove the motor vehicle at a high rate of speed while racing against another vehicle or a timing device.
In many cases, individuals charged with a violation of 23109(a) VC are also charged with offenses such as:
- Reckless driving, 23103 VC
- Vehicular exhibition of speed, 23109(c) VC
- Misdemeanor evading an officer, 2800.1 VC
- Felony reckless evading, 2800.2 VC
- Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, 23152(a) VC
- Driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, 23152(b) VC
Criminal penalties for a speed contest violation
Participating in a speed contest in California is a misdemeanor. For a first conviction, the defendant may be sentenced to any or all of:
- Up to 90 days in county jail.
- A fine between $355 and $1,000.
- Up to 40 hours of community service.
- Vehicle impoundment for up to 30 days.
- Suspension of driver’s license for 90 days to six months OR a restricted driver’s license limiting driving to only between one’s residence and place of work.
A second speed contest offense increases the potential jail sentence to six months, and the offender may also be sentenced to probation and suffer mandatory driver’s license suspension for six months.
23109(a) becomes a wobbler – meaning that the offense can be charged as a felony at the prosecutor’s discretion – if someone is seriously injured as a result of the speed contest and/or if the defendant has one or more prior convictions for the same offense within the past five years.
A felony speed contest conviction under 23109(a) VC is punishable by any or all of:
- 16 months to three years of incarceration.
- A fine of up to $10,000.
- Driver’s license suspension.
- Vehicle impoundment.
As with any criminal charge, it is important to seek advice from a qualified attorney. There are a few potential legal defenses to a charge of participating in a speed contest; only an attorney can advise which is most appropriate in light of the unique facts and circumstances of the alleged crime. These defenses include, but are not limited to:
- The defendant’s participation in the alleged speed contest was not willful; she/he lacked the necessary intent.
- There was no race between vehicles or timing device involved; the defendant was merely operating the vehicle at a high rate of speed. This defense will often be utilized in conjunction with a negotiated plea to a lesser offense, such as speeding.
- Challenging the prosecution’s evidence to cast doubt upon its accuracy and sufficiency.