Not long after the invention the Model T, people in the U.S. fell in love with their cars. Nowhere was the car culture more celebrated than in California. (Perhaps you recall the hit 80’s song “Walking in L.A.” The chorus: “Walkin’ in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.”.) Back in the day, street (drag) racing was popular, and dangerous. The “sport” has been celebrated in iconic movies and in popular lore. Street racing remains a major concern for law enforcement in California and it is even more dangerous now. Not only is there street racing on our roads and highways, but there are sideshows, often in parking lots, and street takeovers.
While sideshows are not new, they have been increasing in popularity in Orange County, and indeed, all over the country. Sideshows and street takeovers involve exhibitions of speed with drivers performing stunts such as drifting, donuts, and burnouts. These exhibitions take place in parking lots or on city streets and highways. The most brazen of these stunts is what is known as “ghost riding,” where the driver exits a moving vehicle and dances around it before hopping back in. Some of these exhibitions involve hundreds of vehicles and sometimes multiples of that as viewers. Thousands of these events take place every year in California. According to the California Senate, the California Highway Patrol responded to almost 6,000 calls involving speed contests or sideshow exhibitions in 2021. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) links many fatal crashes directly to this type of risky driving.
In 2020, the California Highway Patrol initiated an effort, Communities Against Racing and Side Shows, to address these dangerous, and unfortunately popular, driving exhibitions. Identifying sideshows, street takeovers, and street racing as a major cause of vehicular deaths and injury, the CHP launched this campaign to focus on the issue with the goal of decreasing these tragic outcomes. Along with enhanced speed enforcement, CHP has created task forces with local law enforcement and social media promotions on the dangers of these driving behaviors.
Due to the increasing popularity of sideshows over the past few years, concerns about public safety have arisen. In response to this issue, the California Assembly introduced Assembly Bill 2000 (AB 2000) which sought to make it a crime to participate in or organize a sideshow, including a sideshow in a parking lot (which was not previously criminalized.) This bill was enacted into law and became effective January 1, 2023. The new law imposes hefty penalties for those who are found guilty. The the hope is that the new law will protect public safety by reducing the number of sideshows taking place in California. The penalties on conviction of section 23109 can result in as much as a 90-day sentence in jail and possible suspension of the driver’s license to drive for up to six months.
The Legislature upped the ante when it passed into law—also effective January 1, 2023—an amendment to the vehicular manslaughter statute under Penal Code section 192. Vehicular manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another person without the intent to kill that person but a result of committing an unlawful act with gross negligence. Under the amendment, participation in a sideshow as defined by Vehicle Code section 23109 and/or an exhibition of speed is now added as a circumstance indicating gross negligence.
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a “wobbler,” meaning that is can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If convicted on a misdemeanor charge it is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for not more than one year, whereas a felony conviction carries a sentence of imprisonment in state prison for two, four, or six years.
Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg offers a confidential and free consultation to discuss your criminal matter. You may reach him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org