Drag racers, drifters and unruly spectators would face prison time under new proposal in Springfield

The bill was introduced after Chicago police officials struggled to respond to the street takeovers and drag racing that gave way to clashes with police and possibly left a woman dead this weekend.

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Passengers hang out the windows of a car as it drifts in circles during a takeover in a South Side intersection, Friday night, July 29, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

After another wild weekend of stunt driving, drifting and street racing, a new bill introduced in Springfield aims to hold drivers accountable by charging them with a felony that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford told the Sun-Times he introduced the measure earlier this week to send a “strong message” to those involved in the city’s underground car culture, who he said have faced little consequences and “think this is a game.” The Chicago Democrat previously spearheaded a similar law that takes effect at the start of the year.

“It’s lawlessness,” he said of the high-speed trend. “The fact that they can do it and the law is silent on punishing [them] is alarming in itself.”

The proposal comes after Chicago police officials struggled to respond to the street takeovers and drag racing that gave way to clashes with cops and possibly left a woman dead this weekend. On Monday, Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott announced that a newly launched “caravan task force” is focused on enforcing a city ordinance that allows the city to impound vehicles and fine drivers up to $10,000.

Ford, however, said that doesn’t go far enough to hold drivers accountable.

His bill would give officials the ability to charge street racers and drifters with mob action, a Class 4 felony that carries a possible prison sentence of one to three years. Others who engage in violent disturbances, like those captured in a viral video chucking objects and kicking a police cruiser, would face the same charge.

Ford said he was first moved to act last December, when he saw drivers block off the Eisenhower Expressway near the Rush University Medical Center. Video of the incident shows cars doing donuts and kicking up smoke as onlookers record video on their cellphones, a familiar scene for the car sideshows.

“With them shutting down the [Interstate 290] expressway right by Rush hospital, people wouldn’t be able to get there for an emergency,” he said. “And I called the state police and talked to some of the law enforcement community, and they said there’s nothing they can do.”

Looking to give officials new ways to address the issue, Ford introduced a bill earlier this year that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in April. It goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Drivers involved in street takeovers and those who block or slow traffic for car stunts or races will then face a minimum fine of $250 and a misdemeanor charge that could result in a prison sentence of less than a year. If they’re caught again, they’ll face a Class 4 felony and a minimum fine of $500.

Under the law, those found street racing will have their driver’s license revoked. And anyone involved in a crash resulting in “great bodily harm or disfigurement to another” can be convicted of aggravated street racing, a felony that carries a sentence of one to 12 years.

Those who let stunt drivers and drag racers use their car will first face a misdemeanor charge with a maximum $1,500 fine and up to six months in jail. Subsequent offenses warrant the highest misdemeanor count, carrying a possible $2,500 fine and nearly a year in jail.

Ford said he consulted Chicago police and the Illinois State Police while writing the law and expects they’ll get behind the new measure.

“The message has to be out that this is a Class 4 felony and, if you’re busted, you’ll have a felony on your record,” he said.

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