Ricks of Drag Racing

It is probably no surprise to learn that drag racing is illegal in Pennsylvania. What may be very surprising is that spectators are just as guilty as participants. It is a crime to participate in a drag race, either behind the wheel or watching from the sidelines. Any conviction for drag racing carries a fine of $200 and can include a jail sentence of up to 90 days.

A young woman found herself convicted of drag racing and appealed, claiming that she was not guilty. She was seen by police officers assigned specifically to patrol areas frequented by drag racers. At trial, testimony was given by a police officer who had detailed knowledge of the early morning hour drag races. He explained that, around 3 a.m., drivers and spectators would congregate at a particular road. As many as 300 spectators would sit in a gas station parking lot and along the side of the road.

The routine adopted by the police was to enter the area suddenly, with lights flashing and siren on, to scatter the participants. On the evening of the young woman’s arrest, she was sitting in a car, with its lights out, in the gas station parking lot. When the police arrived, she quickly drove, in reverse, through the area of the gas pumps and almost struck another vehicle. The police pursued her car, stopping her a short distance from the gas station. They cited her for drag racing, fleeing from police, and reckless driving.

The young woman testified that, “stupid as it was,” she had agreed to drive with her boyfriend to the drag races. She claimed that she was frightened by the commotion when the police arrived and that she just wanted to leave. Her boyfriend had stepped out of the car, and she was left to drive away alone. The young woman claimed that she was not guilty because she was not a “participant” in a drag race.

The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code prohibits drag racing and provides that no one may race on a highway or “in any manner participate in any such race.” The court upheld the young woman’s conviction, finding that the term “participate” includes participating as a spectator. The court noted that spectators “share” in drag racing events and that their “intentional presence encourages and promotes illegal racing.”

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