Street takeovers and stunt driving — wheelies, doughnuts, drifting and other dangerous and potentially deadly road activities — are already illegal in Florida, but current state statutes require police to be on the scene to enforce the law.
A new bill that cleared a Senate committee Wednesday would change that, allowing law enforcement to mete out penalties and make arrests based on video evidence.
The bill, SB 876, would specifically prohibit driving any motor vehicle in a street takeover — a space of roadway people on foot have encircled for the purpose of cutting off outside traffic, including police.
Further, the bill would ban all unsanctioned stunt driving and street takeover activities. The rule would extend to those participating, coordinating, facilitating, collecting money, knowingly riding as passengers and purposely causing traffic to slow or stop.
Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami, the bill’s sponsor, told members of the Senate Committee on Transportation such activities have grown increasingly common in Miami-Dade County and around Tampa and Jacksonville.
“This happens almost every night,” he said.
Pizzo played a video recorded in late September of a stunt racing event in Miami Gardens that injured five people and killed two. One was a 42-year-old mother of four who was decapitated while riding in one of several cars doing doughnuts in the middle of an intersection while onlookers recorded the event on their phones just feet from the vehicles.
But because no police officer was present, the police have been limited in what they can do to punish those responsible, Pizzo said, adding that stunt driving doesn’t just happen at night and away from other vehicles.
“We have ATVs, licensed (and) unlicensed, doing wheelies, creating incredible traffic situations,” he said. “We have some incredibly daring young men and women who will actually operate a motorcycle on the roadway without a front wheel.”
What’s needed, Pizzo argued, is for lawmakers to specifically codify a prohibition of stunt driving and street takeovers, similar to what lawmakers did in 2019 for drag racing, so police could enforce laws against reckless driving based on video evidence.
“Word spread really fast when this Legislature made an exception (for drag racing) a couple years ago,” he said. “(People) said, ‘Oh, wait, if someone’s got a video of me with my license plate racing and my face in the car, I can get arrested, where the cop used to have to be there to arrest me?’”
He said, “Word’s going to spread really quickly that this is illegal.”
The bill provides that first-time violators would face arrest, impounding of their vehicles and the same penalties as those who participate in illegal street racing: a first-degree misdemeanor punishable with a $500 to $1,000 fine and, if a court convicts them, up to a year’s revocation of their driver’s license.
Anyone who violates the statute again within five years would face another first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 to $3,000 fine and a two-year driver’s license suspension.
Law enforcement would also be able to seize their vehicle, which would be subject to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
A third infraction within five years would see violators face $2,000 to $5,000 fines and a four-year driver’s license suspension.
The law would not apply to licensed or authorized race tracks, drag strips or other areas set aside for stunt driving and racing purposes.
Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones of Miami Gardens said stunt driving is a “huge problem” in his district, where tire marks in the street from drifting and doughnuts are common sights.
“My brother has expressed how, late at night — one, two o’clock in the morning — all you hear is a car in the middle of the street that’s going around and around with people outside, and these are in neighborhoods where people actually reside,” he said.
“This has happened a lot in Miami Gardens… It will happen during (Martin Luther King Jr.) weekend, because that’s when they do it. The driving of the motorcycles and the bringing out of the cars and doing this type of activity is dangerous, and I’m happy that we’re doing this, and I can’t wait to pass this and outlaw the foolishness that is happening in my district and other districts within the state of Florida.”
Several state and municipal governments — including Arizona, California, Georgia, Mississippi and New York — have taken steps recently to crack down on street racing and stunt driving, which has surged across the country as streets and highways that were normally congested with traffic were cleared of vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The problem isn’t unique to the United States. In April, police in Toronto reported a 222% jump in stunt driving over the prior 10 months.
Pizzo said he intends to amend his bill to include features from theirs.
Asked by Jones if the bill would impede Floridians from participating in large-scale, non-motorized rides like Critical Mass — a formalized Miami event in which bicyclists, skateboarders, inline skaters and others take to the streets for a 12- to 18-mile ride — Pizzo said it would not.
“I’m not looking to (prevent that),” he said. “I just want to create a safer community.”