Is Drag Racing Actually a Crime in Texas?

June 10th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Traffic Offenses

Drag racing is a popular sport in Texas. But it is important to distinguish the legal, organized sport of drag racing–i.e., events held at tracks and sanctioned by governing bodies–from individuals conducting their own late-night races on public highways. The latter is a misdemeanor traffic violation that can quickly escalate to a felony if someone is injured or killed.

Under Section 545.420 of the Texas Transportation Code, it is illegal for anyone to participate in a race, vehicle speed competition, drag race, or an “an exhibition of vehicle speed or acceleration or to make a vehicle speed record.” A first offense is a Class B misdemeanor. If someone suffered “bodily injury” in connection with the illegal race, the participants can be charged with a third-degree felony, and if someone suffered “serious bodily injury” or death, it becomes a second-degree felony.

San Antonio Court Rejects “Vagueness” Challenge to Anti-Racing Statute

The Texas Fourth District Court of Appeals in San Antonio recently rejected a constitutional challenge to Section 545.420. This particular case, Sanchez-Vasquez v. State, involved a drag race between the defendant and another man. According to a police report, the two men agreed to race on a “dead-end stretch of road.” During the race, the other man’s vehicle “hit a bump in the road and became airborne.” The vehicle landed upside down in a pond, killing the other man. Police then charged the defendant with second-degree felony racing on a highway.

The defendant entered a “no contest” plea. The judge then deferred a formal finding of guilt and placed the defendant on probation for 10 years. The defendant then appealed, arguing the law prohibiting drag racing was unconstitutionally “vague” and effectively “criminalizes ordinary highway driving.”

As written, Section 545.420 defines a “race” as the use of a vehicle to try and “outgain or outdistance another vehicle or prevent another vehicle from passing.” The defendant argued this could be read to forbid a driver from speeding up or slowing down “to pass, merge, or exit,” all of which are ordinary acts of driving. Indeed, the Fourth District acknowledged that other judges who previously examined Section 545.420 raised concerns that the law could place “an ordinary law-abiding person into the position of committing an offense, even if he is otherwise observing the speed limit, simply by using his vehicle to pass another vehicle.”

Nevertheless, the Fourth District ultimately concluded that Section 545.420 was not unconstitutional as applied to the facts of this case. The defendant admitted before the trial court that he “used his vehicle in a side-by-side competition where he attempted to outdistance” the deceased man. In other words, there was no question this was a drag race, and the appeals court would not strike down the law based on a “hypothetical” scenario involving a different set of facts.

Speak with a Houston Traffic Violations Defense Lawyer Today

If you are charged with drag racing or any other traffic violation, it is critical you seek out timely legal advice and representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston, Houston or League City today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away by calling 281-280-0100

 

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