Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

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Street Racing

Guide No.28 (2004)

by Kenneth J. Peak & Ronald W. Glensor

Translation(s): Sokak Yarilari (Turkish)

The Problem of Street Racing

The guide begins by describing the problem of street racing and reviewing factors that contribute to it. The guide then identifies a series of questions that might assist you in analyzing your local street racing problem. Finally, the guide reviews responses to the problem and what is known about these from evaluative research and police practice.

While street racing and cruising share some common characteristics, there are important differences between the two activities and those who participate in them. Cruising typically involves an older crowd, and is a highly public and largely nostalgic event that is often confined to downtown areas. Cruising can also provide an economic boost to the community. Street racing typically involves a younger crowd that conducts its activities in an underground fashion to avoid police attention and presents significant risks of serious personal injury.

See the POP Guide on Cruising.

Northern Nevadas Hot August Nights event, for example, generates $132 million for the Reno and Sparks economies, and brings more than a half million people to the area during the weeklong event (RRC Associates, 2003).

Related Problems

Police must also address other problems related to street racing, which are not directly addressed in this guide . Other problems that may call for separate analysis and responses include:

  • auto theft,

    Hondas, Acuras, and other preferred racing vehicles are among the top five makes of vehicles stolen nationally (Sloan, 2004).

  • assaults (including assaults in retaliation for failure to pay racing bets1),
  • cruising,
  • curfew violations,
  • drunken driving and driving under the influence of drugs,
  • gang-related activity,
  • insurance fraud (relating to racers betting on outcomes),

    For example, a racer wagers his cars racing wheels or custom seat covers and loses; he then files a police report and insurance claim stating the items were stolen in order to obtain a new set; or, a racer who blows an engine will abandon the vehicle and then report it stolen, to acquire money for a replacement (Sloan, 2004).

  • illegal vehicle modification (e.g., smog control alteration),
  • illicit gambling ,
  • noise complaints,
  • public intoxication/urination and other public order offenses,
  • theft and fencing of auto parts,
  • thefts from autos,
  • trespassing, and
  • vandalism and littering.

The American street-racing tradition dates back to the 1950s, and has long been a staple of Hollywood movies, including films such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), American Graffiti (1973), and Grease (1978). But no movie did more to boost the popularity of street racing than the 2001 surprise hit, The Fast and the Furious, which grossed nearly $80 million in its first 10 days in theaters and includes spectacular racing scenes and daring stunts (including one where a car swerves back and forth beneath a speeding tractor-trailer).2 Although the movie studio issued public service announcements that encouraged safe and legal driving, the film likely provided fresh inspiration to street racers.

A 78-year-old man was killed in Los Angeles by a speeding driver who had just seen the movie, and in Redwood City, California, officers arrested six men caught racing down Interstate 280 at more than 120 miles per hour; all had ticket stubs from the film in their pockets (Squatriglia and Nevius, 2003). I n San Diego County, California, where the movie was made, 15 people were killed in racing-related incidents in the year after the movies release ( Reno, 2002) .

The street racing population consists of several distinct demographic groupings. One is estimated to be between 18 and 24 years of age, generally living at home and typically having little income.3 Another group involves predominantly older (25 to 40 years of age) white males who engage in building and racing the older types of muscle cars: Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs, and so on. Asian and Hispanic males of a wide range of ages and driving later model imported carssuch as Hondas, Acuras, Mitsubishis, and Nissansare another group.4 Presently, the latter group dominates the street racing scene.5

Many street racers spend large amounts of money upgrading their cars performance. Credit:

Police suspect that many racers engage in illegal activities in order to finance their hobby; some agencies report that stolen vehicles have been stripped of parts that were later recovered from street racing vehicles.6

Whether by lawful or unlawful means, many racers feel they must devote huge sums of money to soup up their race cars; a major upgrade, with supercharger blowers, nitrous oxide systems, and other high-performance equipment can easily exceed $10,000.7For many racers, getting the maximum performance out of their cars is very important to them and they will expend a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort toward that end.8

How dangerous is street racing? Data are difficult to obtain, because neither the federal government nor the insurance industry tracks related casualties, nor is software yet available for creating a database of street racing.9 However, measures are being taken in some jurisdictions to address this shortcoming and are discussed below. One unofficial estimate, derived from examining news reports and police data from 10 major cities and extrapolating on the basis of national population figures, is that at least 50 people die each year as a result of street racing.10 Although related deaths are difficult to quantify, media reports confirm that street racing takes its toll on innocent people as well as street racers, passengers, and onlookers.

At the root of the problem is the fact that youths have always had, according to one scholar, a profound need for speed.11 This love of speed is not restricted to the youth of the United States; indeed, the problem has reached serious levels in Canada, Australia, Germany, England, France, New Zealand, and Turkey.12 In Canada, where a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer was killed by a racer in 200213 and another 18 people died in the Toronto area in street racing incidents during a four-year period,14 a new law was introduced in which street racing is an aggravating factor when sentencing persons convicted of dangerously or negligently operating a motor vehicle.15 In Vancouver, British Columbia, street racing can include an activity known as a hat race, also known as a kamikaze or cannonball run, in which drivers put money in a hat; the money is taken to an undisclosed location from which a call is made, informing the drivers where the cash awaits. The first driver to get there wins all the money. Pedestrians have been killed during such races.16

Race starters and observers are often positioned very close to the racing vehicles, putting themselves at considerable risk of injury. <em>Credit

Race starters and observers are often positioned very close to the racing vehicles, putting themselves at considerable risk of injury. Credit

Today in the United States, the racing tradition replays itself during every weekend in thousands of communities in the nation. The primary difference today is that street races are extraordinarily brazen and elaborately orchestrated functions, involving flaggers; timekeepers; lookouts armed with computers mounted in their cars, cell phones, police scanners, two-way radios, and walkie-talkies; and websites that announce race locations and even calculate the odds of getting caught by the police.17 Some websites even provide recaps of the previous nights races, complete with ratings of police presence, crowd size, and a link to the police agency so the curious can see if a warrant has been issued for their arrest.18

Street races typically involve racers and spectators meeting at a popular gathering place, often on a relatively remote street in an industrial area. Here they decide where to race; they then convoy to the site, where a one-eighth or one-quarter mile track is marked off. Cars line up at the starting line, where a starter stands between them and drops his or her hands to begin the race. Several hundred spectators may be watching. Unlike racetracks that allow spectators to observe races in a safe, closed environment, these illegal street races encourage spectators to stand near possibly inexperienced drivers and poorly maintained vehiclesa combination that can be deadly for onlookers standing a few feet away from vehicles racing at highway speed.19 Other peripheral activities may be involved as well. For example, racers and spectators engage in what are termed sideshows, such as using vehicles and onlookers to block off an intersection and thus backing up regular vehicular traffic for considerable distances and preventing the police from arriving at the scene; then the racers at the intersection engage in 360 burnouts, races, and so on.20 Racers also participate in what is termed the centipede, where they form a convoy of vehicles and play follow-the-leader, darting in and around normal traffic at high speeds. Or, they may speed around corners to see how far they can slide their tires.

Street racing can also be unorganized and sporadic in nature, involving impromptu, one-time races between persons who do not know one another; the police generally have little means for dealing with these types of racers other than utilizing the media to make it very clear that, if caught, the violators will be severely prosecuted.21

The specific harms caused by street racing include:

  • vehicle crashes (deaths and injuries to drivers, passengers, onlookers, or innocent bystanders; and property damage);
  • noise (from racing vehicles and crowds);
  • vandalism and litter at racing locations (including businesses where racers commonly gather);
  • loss of commercial revenue (if racing crowds obstruct or intimidate potential customers); and
  • excess wear and tear on public streets (painted street markings commonly are damaged by the burning rubber of vehicle tires).22

Crashes caused by street racing are often spectacular and cause serious injury and property damage. Credit: Marion ( Ind.) Chronicle-Tribune

Retaliatory offenses may also occur, such as when citizens try to deal with the problem themselves by placing nails on the ground where racers congregate or vandalizing racers cars, for example.

Factors Contributing to Street Racing

Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

There are several reasons why street racing can become, or remain over time, a popular pastime in a community:

  • It provides an unsupervised activity and environment.
  • It attracts people who are too young for bars or other adult-only activities (especially in cities having a dearth of alternatives for their youth).
  • It affords a means of socializing with friends.
  • It provides a means of showing off ones motor vehicle and driving ability.
  • It provides drivers, passengers, and onlookers the exhilaration of speed.23
Roadway location and design can also contribute to street racing. For example, a roadway located in a remote, perhaps industrial, area that is straight, wide, and close to arterial streets (for quick getaways from the police) will be favored by street racers.24 The existence of car clubs and/or gangs in an area can also create or exacerbate a communitys street racing problems.25

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of street racing. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

Data Gathering and Analysis

A shortcoming at present is the lack of dedicated coding and analysis of street racing data in most police agencies. No software presently exists for the identification and analysis of racing offenses, and agencies must typically hand search their records for higher-level analyses. Others have a dedicated calls-for-service code specifically for racing issues that the officers can use for reporting and communications personnel can query. A problem that can arise with such coding, however, is that it may fail to include other offenses that flow from, or arise out of, illegal racing (auto thefts, other thefts, assaults, trespassing, and so on), or to provide information about groups that gather at retail parking lots. At a minimum, the crime analysis unit or communications section should be contacted to determine how many personnel hours are spent at racing locations, including days of the week and times of day. Furthermore, the agency is advised to create at least a rudimentary database or modify existing records management systems so that street racing-related activity (including crimes, disturbances, traffic and pedestrian stops, vehicle and pedestrian traffic congestion, traffic crashes, arrests, etc.) can be tracked.If such a database does not exist, you may have to manually search through individual complaint records and police reports to determine which are related to street racing.

California Agencies Efforts to Obtain Racing Data

Police in California have been attempting for years to convince the state to alter its accident investigation form to include coding for street racing. Once the procedure is developed statewide, agencies will be able to obtain reliable data. Until the new form is developed, the California Highway Patrol has disseminated a training memo instructing local officers where to include a racing-related notation. The key for California agencies, and eventually for other agencies nationwide, will be to provide officers with necessary training. Most officers are unfamiliar with street racing codes, rules, and laws; therefore, as the ability is expanded for agencies to track racing incidents, if the responding or investigating officer is not properly trained, a concern is that the proper boxes on the form will not be completed. The San Diego Police Department presently offers training in this regard; thus far, about 2,000 officers have been trained in how to determine when a racing relationship exists with a reported incident.26

In Milpitas, California, each time an officer is either dispatched to any type of call for service or initiates any activity (e.g., traffic or pedestrian stops, arrests, citation, accepting a report of a crime, etc.), at the conclusion of that activity, the officer is required to provide the communications division with a classification code that identifies the specific type of activity. As with all other offenses, a specific classification was simply developed that includes street racing incidents. Race-related traffic enforcement stops; disturbances of any kind involving racers; crimes in which racers are listed as suspects; or other circumstances in which individuals are actively racing at, loitering about, or traversing to and from common racing venues are examples of such classifications.27

Tracking Racing Websites

Several race-related websites exist that may be used by the police to track racers activities as well as provide useful information to racers. For example, provides racing and club news, articles, events, calendars, chatrooms, message boards, auctions, and other information for many cities and states. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) is a 5,000-member trade organization for the aftermarket industry; although SEMA often mounts strong opposition to police efforts and proposed racing legislation, it may offer another avenue to reach racers through the retailers who sell parts.28 Others, such as and the National Hot Rod Associations, focus more on encouraging legal racing, and attempt to educate their readers about related laws and statistics (e.g., numbers of illegal racers who were recently killed, injured, cited, arrested, or who had vehicles seized or licenses revoked).

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular street racing problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.


  • What is the level of calls for service and complaints attributable to street racing in the area? What, specifically, is the nature of these calls and complaints?
  • How many vehicle crashes are related to street racing?
  • How, specifically, does street racing contribute to these crashes? Racing vehicles crash into one another? Into stationary objects or pedestrians adjacent to the roadway? Into non-participating vehicles?
  • What percentage of these crashes involves fatalities, personal injuries, and property damage? Hit-and-run accidents?
  • Are younger, less experienced drivers more likely to be involved in vehicle crashes?
  • How many passengers are typically in racing vehicles?
  • Is traffic congestion caused by street racing impeding emergency traffic (e.g., ambulance and fire vehicles)?
  • Do business owners report decreasing revenues as a direct result of racers and spectators gathering on their premises?
  • Have there been any local occurrences (e.g., the closure of a local legitimate drag strip) or issues that may have resulted in increasing street racing incidents?
  • Have there been reports of retaliatory offenses against street racers?


  • Who is harmed by street racing (e.g., street racers, passengers, onlookers, innocent motorists, innocent bystanders, business owners, residents)?
  • What is known about the victims of street racing-related incidents (e.g., demographics, their involvement in street racing)?
  • How many people have been killed or injured as a result of street racing? What is the nature and seriousness of those injuries? (You may want to examine hospital emergency room records because not all crash-related or assault injuries are reported to police.)
  • What is the publics opinion of street racing? Do people want street racing stopped or merely controlled in a legal setting? (Public opinion may be expressed in letters to the editor, surveys, meetings, informal conversations, formal complaints, and so forth.)


  • What is known about street racers, their passengers, and onlookers? (Age, ethnicity, group affiliation?)
  • If there are organized groups involved in street racing, are they criminal gangs? Are there tensions and confrontations between various groups involved in street racing?
  • Why do street racers say they race (e.g., lack of alternative activities, for social reasons, to show off their cars, for the thrill of speed, etc.)?
  • Do the participants include unsupervised youths who are on the streets in violation of a curfew?
  • Where do the racers live? Are they local or from out of town?
  • What percentage of persons cited or arrested for street racing are repeat offenders?
  • Who are the worst offenders?
  • Are street racers operating unsafe vehicles or vehicles that have undergone major modifications in order to maximize their speed?


  • What is the nature of the area where street racing occurs (commercial, industrial, residential, open highway, etc.)?
  • How much pedestrian traffic is there in the area where street racing occurs? What other special hazards are there in the area where street racing occurs?
  • Where are traffic crashes occurring that appear to be related to street racing?
  • Where is the major street racing-related traffic volume in the city?
  • Where are the hot spots, and how many related offenses have occurred (such as disturbances; assaults; and weapons, liquor, drug, curfew, noise, vandalism, littering, trespassing, graffiti, and traffic violations)?
  • Where are the preliminary gathering places for racers and spectators?
  • In which area(s) does street racing occur? What are the means of ingress and egress into the area? Does the racing occur in residential or industrial areas? On public streets, or state or federal highways? Privately owned roadways?
  • Is the racing concentrated in business areas, or residential areas, or both?
  • Why are the most concentrated racing locations attractive to street racers?
  • Is adequate lighting in these areas?
  • When does street racing typically occur (time of day, day of week, time of month or year, during certain holidays or special events)?

Current Responses

  • Are there adequate state and local laws for meeting the needs of the police in addressing street racing problems?
  • Have stakeholders been identified and partnerships forged for dealing with the problem?
  • Do adequate resources exist for dealing with the problem?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to street racing:

  • reduced numbers of various street racing-related offenses;
  • reduced numbers of calls for service concerning street racing, both in the racing area and across the jurisdiction;
  • reduced numbers of racers and spectators, if any, who are returning to their old racing spots;
  • reduced number and severity of injuries attributable to street racing;
  • reduced numbers of juveniles in violation of existing curfew and other laws;
  • increased satisfaction of complainants; and
  • increased profitability of businesses previously harmed by street racing.

You should be alert to the possibility that your responses to street racing might displace racers and related offenses, either geographically or to other types of crimes. This might not be all bad if the displacement results in less overall harm. Crime and call-for-service data as well as websites should be monitored both locally and in other jurisdictions to determine whether racers are merely taking their activities to other venues.

Responses to the Problem of Street Racing

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. There is little published research about street racing; most of what is known is drawn from police practice. Several of these strategies may apply to your communitys problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.

General Considerations for an Effective Strategy

  1. Enlisting community support for addressing the problem. Broad-based coalitions that incorporate the interests of the community are recommended. A combined effort will maximize the effects of responses and enhance the likelihood of success. The involvement and support of public officials, citizens, and business owners will be essential for the success of most, if not all, of the specific responses listed below.

    Enlisting community support might include using members of a police Explorer post, citizens police academy, senior citizens groups, merchant association, and so on to report racers activities to police.29 Community support might also come from those who provide racers with their equipment, including shops selling high-performance car parts, and who are at risk for being burglarized for these parts. Although these shop owners may not wish to cooperate, if so inclined, they can be of considerable assistance in informing the police about racers illegal activities.

  2. Educating and warning street racers. Street racers can be informed about the dangers and legal consequences of racing,as well as police enforcement intentions. Among the media you can use are street racing websites (on which they commonly announce past and future events, host chat rooms, and have message boards), police agency websites, newspapers, television, radio, and personal contacts with street racers. A publicity campaign about the problem and enforcement actions has been central to many efforts to combat street racing problems. Performance shop owners also might be asked to provide customers information about existing laws and potential penalties for racing.
  3. Conducting surveillance of the street racing scene. Street racers can be quite sophisticated in their efforts to avoid detection by police. Unmarked police vehicles, plainclothes officers, and video equipment may be covertly used to observe racers movements and methods and to determine the problems they create, where they live, the kinds of cars they drive, license plate numbers, and so on. This allows for pre-race intervention, access to race areas to be closed off, and participants to later be charged. Racers use of police scanners can be thwarted by using radio code words, in-car computers, and specially programmed cell phones. For example, one police agency programmed some cellular phones with a group-talk feature so that the officers and dispatchers could communicate effectively without using the police radio frequency when dealing with racer issues.30 Marked units and uniformed personnel can then be called in to assist with any arrests. During undercover surveillances, police can videotape illegal street races and participants; later, crime reports can be written for each race and used to prepare arrest warrants for drivers and court orders for vehicle seizures.31 Street racing websites can also be monitored for tracking racers activities and communication.
  4. Encouraging others to exercise informal control over street racing participants. You may identify certain groups, organizations, or individuals who have the potential to exert significant influence over the behavior of street racing participants. For example, if street racing participants are high school students, school administrators might be persuaded to suspend or revoke the parking privileges of students identified as participants in or spectators of street racing incidents. Insurance companies, which also have an interest in the problem, may be persuaded not to pay claims for damages if the claimant was participating in racing. Parents of street racing participants, properly educated about the dangers of street racing, may be encouraged to get more involved in controlling their childrens behavior.

    The San Diego Police Department trains insurance investigators in matters concerning racing (Sloan, 2004) .

Specific Responses to Street Racing


  1. Enforcing ordinances and statutes. You should review existing ordinances and statutes to determine whether police have adequate enforcement authority. Laws likely to be enforced against drivers include racing/reckless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and driving with suspended/revoked licenses. In some jurisdictions police officers and vehicle emission enforcement agents jointly conduct smog equipment inspections on street racing vehicles, issue the owner a citation if the equipment was disconnected or modified, and even order the vehicle removed from the street until it is brought into compliance with the law.32 Officers might also attempt to identify people in the emissions testing industry who issue fraudulent emission certificates for the illegally modified vehicles.33 Drivers should be checked for proof of insurance and vehicle registration. Officers can work with automotive experts to identify street racing vehicles that have been illegally enhanced or altered, or have mechanical defects. Enforcement against non-drivers might include violations for trespassing on private property of adjacent businesses, obstructing traffic (if standing in the roadway), or aiding in a speed contest (for people acting as starters for races). Dedicated race patrol teams may be necessary for concentrated enforcement during peak racing times.34Enforcement of curfew laws might also reduce the numbers of juveniles present at racing venues.

    Following are some examples of how many police agencies have been aided with newly enacted ordinances and statutes in their attempts to prevent and address street racing:

    • In California, a conviction for engaging in a speed contest (defined as a motor vehicle racing against another vehicle or being timed by a clock or other device) consists of a fine up to $1,000 plus penalty assessments, up to 90 days in jail, or both. The perpetrators license may be suspended or restricted for up to six months, and a police officer may impound a vehicle when the driver is arrested for engaging in a speed contest, for reckless driving, or for demonstrating exhibit of speed (for example, peeling or screeching of tires due to hard acceleration). A vehicle can be impounded for up to 30 days, and it costs the offender $1,500 to retrieve it. Persons who aid or abet any speed contest (such as a person who flags the start of the race or places a barricade on the highway) can be charged with a misdemeanor.35
    • The State of Texas enacted harsher penalties for street racing in 2003. The new law made street racing a more serious violation, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine for both drivers and passengers; and up to a $4,000 fine and one year in jail if the driver was intoxicated, had an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, or had previously been convicted of the same offense. Spectators can be cited and fined up to $500 as well.
    • Street racers can be charged with engaging in a speed contest and reckless driving, fined up to $1,000, and sentenced to six months in jail in Reno, Nevada. Spectators within 200 feet of an illegal street race can also be arrested and fined up to $200. The drivers vehicle can be impounded and storage fees assessed at $50 per day.36
    • The City of Fremont, California banned all traffic between 10 PM and 6 AM on 10 roads popular with street racers and allowed police to impound the vehicles of both drivers and spectators.37
    • The City of Santee, California made it unlawful for any individual to be a spectator (within 200 feet) at an illegal speed contest, or where preparations are being made for an illegal speed contest; violators are subject to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
  2. Impounding and/or forfeiting vehicles used for street racing. Vehicles may be impounded and a fee assessed in order for the owner to retrieve the vehicle under an ordinance when the driver is arrested for engaging in a speed contest, for reckless driving, or for demonstrating exhibit of speed (e.g., peeling or screeching of tires due to hard acceleration). A vehicle forfeiture ordinance may be enacted to declare a vehicle a nuisance and it can be permanently seized if it was used in a race or exhibition of speed and the driver has a prior conviction for certain serious driving offenses (such as reckless driving or evading officers).
    • The City of San Diego was among the first to pass a vehicle forfeiture ordinance, in 2003. A vehicle will be declared a nuisance and permanently seized if it was used in a race or exhibition of speed and the driver has a prior conviction for certain serious driving offenses (such as reckless driving or evading officers).38
    • The City Council of Los Angeles soon followed San Diegos example, also approving vehicle-forfeiture legislation. The vehicles are auctioned off and the money deposited into the citys general fund. Furthermore, police in both the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County can arrest spectators on a misdemeanor. In July 2003, the first man to be convicted under the Los Angeles law was sentenced to 18 months probation and 10 days community service.39 The city uses state Bureau of Automotive Repair investigators to inspect vehicles suspected of being illegally modified by their owners; a city ordinance prohibits disconnection, modification, or alteration of pollution control devices, and cited drivers must return their vehicles to their original factory specifications.40
    • The City of Stockton, California, also targeted offenders vehicles rather than the drivers, relying on the aforementioned state statute allowing the police to seize for 30 days vehicles that were used in reckless driving incidents.41
  3. Encouraging private businesses to adopt measures that will help address the problem. Owners and managers of popular street racing gathering places (where street racers meet and plan their activities, show off their cars, socialize, and the problems begin to occur) must be enlisted in efforts to discourage street racing activity. Among the helpful measures are: posting no trespassing signs and authorizing police to enforce them, limiting after-hours access, employing private security during weekends, and closing earlier.
  4. Closing streets and/or altering or restricting traffic flow and parking. Some jurisdictions have installed speed humps, barricades, k-railing (concrete barricades), and freeway message signs and billboards (both permanent and temporary) to control, warn, and inform racers;42 others authorize police to erect barricades and close streets when racing becomes a problem.43 Such latitude affords police the ability to move quickly to deal with problems as they develop. Parking can be prohibited on public properties and roadways in the race area to discourage spectators from congregating along roadsides during prime racing hours; offenders vehicles can be towed.

Providing a Safe Alternative

  1. Creating or encouraging racers legal alternatives, such as relocating to a legal racing area. Several cities and counties have successfully addressed their illegal street racing problem by creating, either on their own or in collaboration with other organizations, a legal racing venue. This is intended to divert people to a safer racing environment, which allows racers to experience some of the positive aspects of legal drag racingthe fun, camaraderie, and excitement. Police can either align with an existing national program (for example, Beat the Heat, Racers Against Street Racing, the National Hot Rod Association) that encourages safe, legal, on-track racing, or implement their own local program. Participant rules should be in place, such as racers must possess a valid drivers license and vehicle insurance, submit to vehicle safety inspections, and refrain from any use of alcohol at the event.44

    See the Redding ( Calif.) Police Department street racing web page at

    Legal, track-based alternatives to street racing are becoming more numerous. Among them is Project X, a program initiated in 1997 to bridge the gap between police officers and high school aged street racers. Credit: Novato ( Calif.) Police Department

    Following are examples of such efforts:

    • Beat the Heat is a national Cops and Kids community policing drag race program, which involves police officers in 30 states and two Canadian provinces. As an example, a police officer in Wewoka, Oklahoma (population 4,000) initiated the program. The officer races local men and women in his 1972 Chevrolet Camaro (with a 545-horsepower engine) at a local track. Teens can serve as honorary pit crew members for the Camaro.45 The program originated in 1984 with the Jacksonville, Florida, Sheriffs Department and has grown rapidly; in 1999, more than 1 million young people were given the message that they should go to tracks to race their cars instead of racing in the street.46
    • Concerned about illegal street racing and the dearth of legal racing venues, automobile manufacturers, police officials, racetrack owners, racers, automobile parts manufacturers, and the media met in California in early 2001 and formed Racers Against Street Racing (RASR); this organization is becoming a countrywide phenomenon that is being tested in drivers education classrooms and consists of a curriculum and video. RASR addresses the realities of street racing, and informs students about local street racing laws and legal alternatives in local areas.47
    • An officer in Redding, California obtained $4,000 from local businesses to help start a racing program, Street Legal Drags, at a local drag strip in mid-2002. Soon there were more than 200 cars (drivers paying $10 to race) and more than 2,500 spectators (assessed $5 per carload). Signs are posted informing racers how to register their vehicles, proceed to the starting line, and leave the track after the race. The Redding police website explains the program and provides detailed instructions for participants. Participants must have a registered, insured, safety-inspected vehicle and a valid drivers license; and no alcohol is allowed on the premises.48
    • Las Vegas , Nevada has Midnight Mayhem, Friday night amateur drag races from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM at the local speedways drag strip. The cost is $10 for drivers and $5 for spectators, and each nights activities include music, car shows, and other events for the 2,500 spectators and 400 drivers.49

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

  1. Installing speed bumps. The installation of speed bumps can reduce or halt street racing, but they are hazardous to emergency vehicles and large trucks. Speed humps, on the other hand, which are more gradual than speed bumps, permit vehicles to cross them safely at the speed limit and create less risk to trucks and emergency vehicles.
  2. Arresting and charging spectators as race participants. Arresting participants for unlawful assembly or curfew violations can be ineffective if a local court rules that street race spectators are not participants.
  3. Citing and releasing racers. Issuing citations to racers or spectators may be ineffective and a weak deterrent, because many such individuals believe that a citation is just part of doing business. Furthermore, some parents disagree with laws intended to curb racing and believe that their children should be allowed to observe such activities and will simply pay the fine for the youth.50
  4. Deploying decoy police vehicles. Placing phantom carsunoccupied marked police carsin racing areas to create the appearance of a police presence will generally not be effective, and the vehicles may be vandalized.51

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to street racing, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.
General Considerations for an Effective Strategy
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
1 Enlisting community support for addressing the problem Maximizes the community efforts by involving people as stakeholders public officials, government agencies, insurance companies, business owners (including car parts stores), and citizens are involved in the effort Involvement of such individuals and entities are key to the success of responses that are employed
2 Educating and warning street racers Informs the street racers about the nature and extent of the problem from the community, police, legal, and safety perspectives the racers are informed of new and existing racing laws and enforcement actions to be taken, and then begin to fear arrest Street racing and police agency websites, newspapers, television, radio, and personal contacts with street racers may be used
3 Conducting surveillance of the street racing scene Allows police to take preventive action to discourage street racing and to apprehend violators by providing them with knowledge about street racing times, locations, and offenders illegal races are prevented and access to race areas are blocked Officers may encounter staffing shortages for large-scale operations; if racers become aware of police tactics, it will become more difficult to infiltrate the crowds
4 Encouraging others to exercise informal control over street racing participants Persuades street racing participants to cease or curtail racing activity through informal social control street racing participants respect the opinions of those seeking to control their behavior and/or fear the consequences of failing to heed informal warnings Street racing participants who feel marginalized from society are unlikely to respond to informal social control methods
Specific Responses to Problems of Street Racing
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
5 Enforcing ordinances and statutes Deters offenders through threat of fines, incarceration, or seizure of vehicles enforcement is sufficiently certain that offenders believe they are likely to be apprehended; prosecutors are willing to prosecute and judges impose sufficient sanctions Can be labor intensive and time consuming; creates risks of high-speed chases
6 Impounding and/or forfeiting vehicles used for street racing Deters speed racers through threat of loss of valuable property and means to race the ordinance is widely publicized to deter illegal racing, and an impound fee is assessed in order for the driver to reclaim the vehicle Ordinances must be enacted providing for impounding or seizing vehicles; city prosecutors and other public officials must first support this approach
7 Encouraging private businesses to adopt measures that will help address the problem Deters racers and spectators from gathering to plan their activities and engaging in crime and disorder such measures as posting no trespassing signs, controlling access to the parking lot, hiring private security, and closing the business early can be used Can be costly for business owners, both in terms of outlay (e.g., to hire private security personnel) and in lost revenues if closing early
8 Closing streets and/or restricting traffic flow and parking Prevents racers from using preferred roads; discourages spectators from gathering along roads there are limited alternative streets on which to race May disrupt other legitimate use of the roadway; may displace racing to other more dangerous roads
9 Creating and/or encouraging racers relocation to a legal racing area Diverts street racers to a safe, sanctioned location street racers are willing to race at legal racing venue; private enterprise is willing to fund and staff the racing venue Legal liability and safety issues must be addressed
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
10 Installing speed bumps Speed bumps, as opposed to speed humps, can damage the undercarriages of large vehicles and interfere with emergency vehicle responses
11 Arresting and charging spectators as race participants Defining spectators as participants may not withstand legal challenge
12 Citing and releasing racers Fines may be inadequate to deter persons heavily committed to racing
13 Deploying decoy police vehicles Police vehicles vulnerable to vandalism


[1] Ontario Police Department (2000).

[2] Orwall (2001).

[3] Lau (2002); also see Ontario Police Department (2000), where the problem primarily involved young adults.

[4] Wilkinson (1996).

[5] Clar (2003); also see San Diego Police Department (2003) and Stockton Police Department (2003).

[6] Lowery (2003).

[7] Wilkens (2003b).

[8] Leigh (1995).

[9] San Diego Police Department (2003).

[10] Neil (1999).

[11] Wilkens (2003a), quoting Stephen Bender.

[12] Wilkens (2003a).

[13] CBC News (2002).

[14] (2002).

[15] CBC News (2003).

[16] Rendon (2001).

[17] Wilkens (2003a).

[18] Dobner (2001).

[19] Lau (2002).

[20] San Diego Police Department (2003).

[21] Sloan (2004).

[22] Ontario Police Department (2000)

[23] Lau (2002).

[24] Stockton Police Department (2003).

[25] Wilkinson (1996)

[26] Sloan (2004).

[27] Pangelinan (2004).

[28] Stokes (2003). [Full Text]

[29] Milpitas Police Department (2002).

[30] Pangelinan (2004).

[31] Stockton Police Department (2003).

[32] Wilkinson (1996).

[33] San Diego Police Department (2003).

[34] Lowery (2003).

[35] Clar (2003).

[36] Reno Police Department (2003).

[37] Squatriglia & Nevius (2003).

[38] Velasquez (2003).

[39] Munoz (2003).

[40] Los Angeles Police Department (2001).

[41] Stockton Police Department (2003).

[42] Ontario Police Department (2000)

[43] Reno Police Department (2003); also see Ontario Police Department (2000) for passage and successful use of a new street-closure ordinance. See, for example, Wilkens (2003a), concerning a university professor who founded a nonprofit group that sponsors legal racing at San Diegos Qualcomm Stadium.

[44] Brinsfield (2001).

[45] Sibley (2001). [Full Text]

[46] Stokes (2003) [Full Text]; PR Newswire Association (2003) [Full Text].

[47] Redding Police Department (2003).

[48] Przybys (2003).

[49] Ontario Police Department (2000)

[50] Wilkinson (1996)

[51] San Diego Police Department (2003).


Brinsfield, S. (2001). Beat the Heat Revs Up Anti-Drug Programs. (Accessed July 14, 2003).

CBC News, Street Racing in Canada. (Accessed April 29, 2004).

CBC News, Two Men Charged in Death of a B.C. RCMP Officer. Accessed April 29, 2004).

Clar, J. (2003). Chapter 411: Putting the Brakes on the Dangerous Street Racing Phenomenon in California. 34 McGeorge L. Rev. 372 (Winter).

Dobner, J. (2001). Speed Demons. San Diego Union-Tribune, August 5, p. N1.

Lau, A. (2001). Tapping the Brakes: Police Sweeps Aim to Stop Street Racing Sites for Legal Events Sought. The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 7, p. B1.

Leigh, A. (1995). Youth and Street Racing. Current Issues in Criminal Justice 7 (3) (March):2.

Los Angeles Police Department, Press Release, Illegal Street Racer Police Sweeps Keep Streets Safer in Valley. June 24. (Accessed July 11, 2003).

Lowery, Jr., P. J. (2003). Curb Illegal Street Racing. The Police Chief70 (1) (September):51-54.

Milpitas Police Department (2002). Street Racer Abatement Project. Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

Munoz, H. (2003). Sun Valley Residents Laud Crackdown on Drag Racing. Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2003, p. B4.

Neil, D. (1999). Heads Up, No Bust, on Asphalt. Car and Driver, January 1999, pp. 149-156.

Ontario Police Department (2000). Slamming the Brakes on Street Racing in Ontario. Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

Orwall, B. (2001). Fearing Copycats, Universal Warns Against Mimicking New Action Film. Wall Street Journal, June 21, p. B1.

Pangelinan, S. (2004). City of Milpitas, California, Police Department, personal communication, May 21, 2004.

PR Newswire Association (2003). SEMA Takes Action to Curtail Illegal Street Racing. May 29. (Accessed July 14, 2003). [Full Text]

Przybys, J. (2003). Ready to Roll. Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 15, p. 1J.

Redding Police Department, website. (Accessed August 12, 2003).

Rendon, P. (2001). The Thrill That Kills. Macleans, September 17, pp. 36-38.

Reno Police Department, Press Release (2003). Illegal Street Racing Operation Dragnet. June 29.

Reno , J. (2002). Furiously Fast Racing. Newsweek, November 4, p. 10.

RRC Associates (2003). Hot August Nights: 2003 Special Event Research and Visitor Profile Study. Boulder, Colo.: Author.

San Diego Police Department (2003). Drag-Net. Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

Sibley, M. (2001). Beat the Heat: A Youth Program Races to Keep Kids Off the Street. Law and Order 49 (2):60-64. [Full Text]

Sloan, G. (2004). City of San Diego, California, Police Department, personal communication, May 21, 2004.

Squatriglia, C., and C. W. Nevius (2003). Police Gear Up for Summer of Speed and Reckless Driving. San Francisco Chronicle, June 11, p. A1.

Stockton Police Department (2003). Project Black Flag. Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

Stokes, D. (2003). Racers Against Street Racing. Law and Order 51(1) (January):77-79. [Full Text] (2002). Photo-radar Floated as Cure for Drag Racing. (Accessed April 29, 2004).

Velasquez, M. (2003). City of San Diego, California, Press Release, First City in the State to Pass Vehicle Forfeiture Ordinance! (April 7).

Wilkens, J. (2003a). Slamming on the brakes: Legal alternative, strict enforcement bring street racing to a screeching halt. The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 23, p. E1.

(2003b). Street Racings Deadly Finish: Legal Events, Police Not Slowing Need for Speed. The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 27, p. A1.

Wilkinson, T. (1996). San Diego, California, Police Department, Northern Patrol Division. Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

Related POP Projects


The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

City Centre Boy Racers, Nottinghamshire Police (Nottinghamshire, UK), 2007

DRAG-NET Unit, San Diego Police Department, 2003

Operation Lifeboat, North Wales Police, 2004

Police Intervention: Solution to a Road Safety Problem, Carabineros of Chile, 2009

Project Black Flag, Stockton Police Department, 2003

Slamming the Breaks on Street Racing in Ontario, Ontario Police Department (Ontario, CA), 2000

Street Legal Drags Project, Redding Police Department, 2003

Street Racer Abatement Project, Milpitas Police Department, 2002

Street Racing: A Fast Track to Jail, Plano Police Department, 2002

The Bell Road Fast and Furious Project, Glendale Police Department (Glendale, AZ), 2006

Van Wagners Beach Plan, Hamilton Police Service (Hamilton, ON, CA), 2004