Racing on a Highway

Racing on a Highway

Last week we talked about our first car crime for the month, Reckless Driving. (Click here if you missed it.) This week we’re talking about another driving offense: racing.

Specifically, Racing on a Highway.

As far as crimes go, racing may seem pretty innocent. However, racing could (and has) lead to serious injury, and in some cases, death. Therefore, the consequences are designed to match the harm that occurs. The charge of Racing on a Highway could land you with significant jail time.


Let’s take a look at the statute:

TEXAS TRANSPORTATION CODE SECTION 545.420

(a) A person may not participate in any manner in:
1) A race;
2) A vehicle speed competition or contest;
3) A drag race or acceleration contest;
4) A test of physical endurance of the operator of a vehicle; or
5) In connection with a drag race, an exhibition of vehicle speed or acceleration or to make a vehicle speed record

And because the law likes to get into the nitty gritty, let’s define a few terms:

Race

The use of one or more vehicles to:
➢ Outgain or outdistance another vehicle
➢ Prevent another vehicle from passing
➢ Arrive at a give destination ahead of another vehicle
➢ Test the physical stamina/endurance of a driver over a long-distance route
(See Section 545.420 (b)(2))

Drag race

The operation of:
➢ Two or more vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speeds in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other
➢ One or more vehicles over a chosen course, from the same place to the same place, for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of the vehicles in a specified distance or time
(See Section 545.420(b)(1))


That was a lot of words to say “don’t race.” But sometimes the law has to get down into the nitty gritty in order to be clear about what counts and what doesn’t. Putting aside the legal jargon, examples of racing include:

➢ A couple of cars participating in a speed contest (your typical racing)
➢ Fishtailing (drifting)
➢ Accelerating so that gravel is thrown on other cars
➢ Spinning tires

Note: According to the Texas County and District Attorneys Association, “Squealing tires alone does not necessarily indicate improper acceleration.”

As is so often the case with the law, it depends on the facts of the case at hand and the evidence stacked against you.


Other Important Information About Racing

It is important to note that the Racing on a Highway statute does not include a “mens rea” or required mental state. A mens rea refers to a state of mind requirement in certain statutes. For example, some statutes require that the crime be done “knowingly” “intentionally” or “recklessly” in order for someone to be convicted. But since the Racing on a Highway statute does not include a mens rea, that leaves some vital questions unanswered. Can someone unintentionally participate in a race? What if you are speeding on the highway and the car next to you is also speeding? Are you now racing? Law enforcement, using their “training and experience,” might say that you are. Their assessment could be used against you in court.

Punishment

Unlike Reckless Driving, which has a defined and limited severity level, Racing on a Highway can be charged at different levels depending on the seriousness of the alleged facts. When an offense is moved up to a new severity level, we say it has been “enhanced.” The lowest severity level for Racing on a Highway is a Class B Misdemeanor. However, depending on certain factors, that could be enhanced all the way to a 2nd degree felony. The chart below describes the elements required to be enhanced to each level.

Severity LevelRequirementsPunishment Range
Class B MisdemeanorRacing on a Highway$0-$2,000 fine
and/or
0-180 days county jail
Class A Misdemeanor1 prior conviction for racing
and/or
Racing while intoxicated
and/or
Racing with open container
$0-$4,000 fine
and/or
0-365 days county jail
State Jail Felony2 prior convictions for racing$0-$10,000 fine
and
180 days – 2 years state jail
3rd Degree FelonyRacing that resulted in bodily injury$0-$10,000 fine
and
2 – 10 years state prison
2nd Degree FelonyRacing that resulted in serious bodily injury or death$0-$10,000 fine
and
2 – 20 years state prison

The severity of the alleged crime depends on how many times you’ve been caught racing before, whether alcohol was involved, and whether someone was hurt or killed in the process.

To further complicate the story, the court has found that you do not have to be the driver that actually killed or injured someone in order to have your case enhanced. (Daniels v. State (478 S.W. 3d 773 (Tex. App. — Forth Worth, 2015, writ denied))) So, if you are racing another person and that other person loses control and causes a death, you could be punished more severely as a result.


All this is to say that racing can quickly get a lot more serious than it seems at first blush.  Not only is this statute vague on whether you can unintentionally race someone, but it also means you are responsible for your actions and the actions of the person you are racing.

As always, if you are charged with Racing on a Highway, talk to your lawyer (we’ve got a pretty excellent pair at Krause & Dailey and free consultations) about the options available to you!

Drive safe, San Antonio!

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