City Council OKs towing crackdown on vehicles used in drag racing, drifting

The ordinance gives the Chicago Police Department the power to impound vehicles used in daredevil stunts, whether or not the owner is present.

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The pavement at Clinton and Monroe streets in the West Loop was filled with tire marks on Monday, July 18, 2022.

The pavement at Clinton and Monroe streets in the West Loop was filled with tire marks on Monday, evidence of what had happened the night before. That’s when a crowd had gathered to watch cars drift and spin around the intersection.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

Daredevil drag racers and drifters who drive in circles and figure-eights around a crowd of spectators and get their kicks by posting video of their stunt driving on social media may soon be sealing their own fate.

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday handed the Chicago Police Department a new and powerful tool to combat the antics endangering spectators almost every weekend and disrupting the sleep of area residents.

The ordinance championed by downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) would empower police to impound vehicles used in such stunts — whether or not the vehicle’s owner is present.

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Prior to the final vote, Reilly noted daredevil stunt driving “skyrocketed during the pandemic.” While most people were “stuck at home, these people were taking advantage of the wide-open roadway and surface parking lots” to showboat.

Noting that stunt-driving events and the crowds that surround them can be “organized super quickly using social media,” Reilly said, “These people are cruising the city waiting for the summons to a point, certain to do their thing.”

The unanimous vote follows yet another harrowing, dangerous and deafening incident that drew hundreds of spectators to Clinton and Monroe streets on the Near West Side early Sunday. The noisy gathering kept area residents awake for hours. Responding officers had fireworks thrown at them and their vehicles were kicked.

That incident was eerily similar to what happened in May on Lower Wacker Drive at Columbus Drive, when a driver did doughnuts and figure-eight stunts around spectators surrounded by a circle of burning gasoline.

Reilly said CPD must find a way to stop the daredevils before somebody gets killed.

Under his ordinance, before impounding the vehicle, CPD would be required to mail the owner a “notice of intent to impound” with a statement of probable cause and a police report of the incident, including date and time of the violation and a description of the vehicle. The owner would have the right to contest the impoundment.

“With some aggressive enforcement on the front end, we can make some high-profile examples. When someone has to pay $5,000 to get their car out of the pound, that should be a deterrent,” Reilly said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot argued that the daredevil stunts are “extraordinarily dangerous events, particularly when you see the crowds gathered for the entertainment factor.”

“People organizing these meet-ups are not Chicago residents. Many of the cars come from outside of the city,” Lightfoot said.

“Unfortunately, our thoroughfares are now becoming sports venues for nonresidents to wreak havoc in our streets. We need to take action.”

Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) has complained that Lightfoot’s decision to give NASCAR the green flag to hold three straight years of stock-car races through downtown Chicago streets would “egg on” participants in a subculture that thrives on becoming celebrities by posting daredevil stunts on social media.

Lightfoot has rejected what she called the “apples vs. oranges” comparison.

Wednesday’s council meeting was the last before the annual August recess.

Before taking a break, the council also:

• Approved Lightfoot’s sweeping plan to rewrite the rules governing so-called “transit-oriented development” to spur construction of sorely needed housing near CTA rail stations, bus stops and Metra stations, particularly on the South and West sides, where only 10% of those developments are located.

The plan triples — to within a half-mile of train stations and a quarter-mile of busy bus corridors — the area where new and denser development can be built with fewer required parking spaces. The goal is reducing traffic congestion and car ownership, bolstering mass transit ridership and reducing carbon emissions.

For the first time, new parking in transit-oriented developments is capped. In fact, developers are prohibited from providing more than one new space for every two new apartments unless the city’s Department of Planning and Development approves the developer’s appeal.

• Added $11.2 million to the mountain of settlements tied to allegations of wrongdoing against Chicago Police Department officers, authorizing payments in two multimillion-dollar cases.

• Signed off on an innovative pilot program concentrated in South Shore that could ultimately be a model for preserving vulnerable aging buildings citywide. It would authorize the Chicago Department of Housing to dole out $5 million worth of grants to owner-occupants of condominium and co-op buildings and “low-interest, long-term loan/grant products” to homeowner associations.

• Gave the go-ahead to $120.3 million in repairs, renovations and additions to Chicago Public Schools bankrolled by tax increment-financing funds.

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