Most allegations of speed contests involve drivers who are racing against one another (Vehicle Code section 23019(a)). Sometimes the drivers have planned to race at a designated location or sometimes, it is a random and spontaneous event occurring between friends or strangers. In either event, drivers who are caught in a speed contest are subject to probation, from 24 hours to 90 days of custody in county jail, and/or fines/fees, and impound of the car for 30 days (subject to exceptions). Additionally, the driver also risks a ninety-day to six-month license suspension or restriction of his/her driving privileges by the DMV.
Importantly, to be found guilty of a speed contest, the prosecutor must be able to prove that the driving took place on a “public street street, highway, or freeway”. Consequently, if the drivers were racing in a lot or location that is private property, they would not be criminally liable for engaging in a speed contest. The prosecutor must also prove that the driver “willfully” engaged in the speed contest. Consequently, if a driver is threatened with physical harm by another driver, and then simply tries to flee or elude that driver, the “wilful” intent does not exist to convict the scared driver.
Not to be overlooked are those individuals who assist in a planned racing event (setting up cones or acting as “starter” for the race). Thus, even if the person is not one of the drivers, but is helping the race take place, he/she can be charged with “abetting” a speed contest (Vehicle Code section 23109(b)) and is subject to the same penalties as the drivers. Moreover, it is not unheard for prosecutors to file misdemeanor charges against even mere “spectators”. The idea being that a spectator is encouraging the drivers to proceed with street racing Where a driver participates in a speed contest and as a result someone is hurt (very common!), the driver can expect to have his/her punishment increased substantially (Vehicle Code section 23109.1(a)). In misdemeanor cases, the penalties will range from 30 days to 180 days of custody in county jail, in addition to probation and licensing consequences. In felony cases, the driver may face 16 months, 2 or 3 years of custody in state prison.