Is it speeding or is it street racing? How the courts decide
If two cars happen to be speeding at the same time, perhaps side-by-side in the same direction of traffic, are the drivers street racing? How do the courts determine if the drivers were speeding merely as a coincidence, or if there was a conscious decision to see who can go faster? After all, if there weren’t clear indications of what street racing actually is, could a driver simply looking to get in front of an adjacent vehicle to make a turn be considered a street racer?
How does the law define street racing?
Thankfully, the Motor Vehicle Act does define what a street race is. There are three qualifications, and a driver is considered to be taking part in a street race if he or she does any of the following:
- outdistancing or attempting to outdistance one or more other motor vehicles
- preventing or attempting to prevent one or more other motor vehicles from passing
- driving at an excessive speed in order to arrive at or attempt to arrive at a given destination ahead of one or more other motor vehicles
The courts have generally established that, unless there is “direct evidence” of a street race, different factors have to be examined to prove a driver was racing. Beyond the Motor Vehicle Act, BC courts have, in the past, relied on what an Ontario judge said when deciding whether a driver is merely speeding, or taking part in a street race. The Ontario judge put it this way:
“What is clear is that there was no requirement for a starting or finishing line, the agreement to race does not have to be in writing or even verbalized, the drivers do not have to know each other, nor is a challenge by word or sign required. That one car overtakes another in itself is not sufficient to establish a race. That one driver issues a challenge to the other who does not accept it does not establish a race. That one or both drivers are showing off, in itself, does not equate with a race. That one driver is attempting to keep up with the first vehicle does not establish a race was occurring. Similarly, there will not be a race where two vehicles are coincidentally speeding side by side.”
The judge in Ontario then laid out 11 factors on what would be considered indicators of street racing.
- two vehicles travelling at excessive speeds
- two vehicles being driven aggressively in tandem
- two vehicles in close proximity to each other over a material distance
- one vehicle tailgating the other or other vehicles
- abrupt and unsafe lane changes
- bold manoeuvres in and out of traffic
- jockeying for position
- high-risk passing manoeuvres
- acts or gestures between the drivers
- further, that laywitnesses’ conclusions of whether drivers were speeding be given limited value as evidence
What types of street racing offences are there?
To understand street racing offences, police have generally understood there are two types of street racing. There’s the first type: a spontaneous street race. Perhaps two drivers at a red light make eye contact. One of them revs his engine, and the other responds in kind with a nod. Both drivers speed off in a screech of exhaust and tire smoke. No words were exchanged, nor was there any planning of the race prior to the vehicles speeding off. This type of racing would be, in most circumstances, be considered a “spontaneous” race.
Then there’s the planned races. The police like to call them “industrial races.” For this type of enforcement, there’s less reliance on witness reports or police catching racing drivers by chance. Instead, to prevent industrial racing police are more likely to try to identify where a race has been scheduled and lay in wait for the participants to show up. Generally, these organized races take place in industrial areas, hence the name.
When describing to court what “industrial racing” is, a Richmond RCMP street racing investigator said 80% of street racing investigations involve organized rallies:
“Constable Hwang and the other police gather information on industrial or organized street racing through automotive retail outlets or through Internet chat forums, where they often find out about the location and dates for a race. As Constable Hwang testified, the police would then go to the designated location and hide until the cars assembled, and then they would stop the race.”
What you should do if you’re alleged to be street racing
Street racing allegations can be successfully challenged. To prove the allegations, the prosecution must prove that your vehicle had actually taken part in what was observed as a street race. To do this, the Crown would either have had direct evidence, such as an officer’s observations, that a specific vehicle was speeding, or the court would rely on circumstantial evidence, such as whether a vehicle of your make and model, or another description, was present in the race.
If you are alleged to be street racing, your vehicle will be towed. If the violation has happened more than once, the impound time can be up to 60 days. It’s not unusual either that the government will use the Civil Forfeiture Act in attempt to seize the vehicle alleged to have participated in the street race, under the justification that street racing is a crime and that the vehicle was used to commit an offence.
While there is no “street racing” charge under the Motor Vehicle Act, s.251(1) of the MVA sets out that the prosecution can charge drivers with speeding relative to conditions, driving without due care and attention or reasonable consideration, regular speeding, and excessive speeding. If a driver is convicted of a street-racing offence, it is almost a certainty that the driver will receive a driving prohibition at some point later.
Street racing allegations are serious. Don’t wait to lose your driving privileges or even your vehicle. Call a BC Driving Lawyer today. 604-608-1200.