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Racing on Highways

Many people think of the movie "The Fast and the Furious" when they hear the phrase "illegal street racing." But throughout the world, racing and drag racing is considered to be a sport for both amateurs and professionals. In the United States, the first organized drag racing event occurred in the California desert in 1949.

To be legal, the drag race must take place on a racetrack or monitored drag strip. In Florida, racing on highways or any public traffic way is a criminal offense that comes with serious criminal penalties. Because drag racing encourages motor vehicles to reach unsafe speeds, law enforcement officers aggressively target young people for illegal drag racing in Florida. Over the years, the Florida legislature has enacted ever harsher penalties as a deterrent.

The penalties are particularly harsh in Florida because the law enforcement officer might immediately arrest a person who has engaged in a race. The officer is also permitted to impound any motor vehicle that was used in unlawful racing for up to 30 days, if the person who is arrested for racing is the registered owner or co-owner of the vehicle.

According to the Annual Uniform Traffic Citation Report published by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), in 2017, there were a total of 764 violations of s. 316.191, F.S. During fiscal year 2017-18, however, FDLE reported no arrests or convictions for a third or subsequent violation of s. 316.191, F.S.

If you were charged with racing on highways in under Florida Statute Section 316.191(2), then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Tampa, FL.

Attorney for Racing Crimes in Tampa, FL

The criminal defense attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent clients charged with criminal traffic crimes including racing on highways under Florida Statute Section 316.191(2).

We can help you at every stage of the case whether you were formally arrested or received a notice to appear in court. We can protect you from a prosecution for this first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. We also help our clients avoid a one-year revocation of the driver's license that would otherwise occur with a conviction for Section 316.191.

Contact us to discuss your case by calling 813-250-0500.


Crimes for Racing under Florida Statute Section 316.191

Florida Statute Section 316.191(2), F.S., prohibits a person from doing any of the following:

  • driving any motor vehicle, including any motorcycle;
  • in an exhibition of speed or acceleration or for the purpose of making a speed record on any highway, roadway, or parking lot;
  • when the exhibition of speed or acceleration involves:
    • a race;
    • a drag race;
    • a speed competition or contest;
    • an acceleration contest; or 
    • a test of physical endurance.
  • Participating in, coordinating, facilitating, or collecting money at any location for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition;
  • Knowingly riding as a passenger in any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; or
  • Purposefully causing the movement of traffic to slow or stop for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition.

Pursuant to Florida Statute Section 316.191(7), the penalties do not apply to licensed or duly authorized racetracks, drag strips, or other designated areas set aside by proper authorities for such purposes.


Penalties for Racing or Drag Racing Crimes in Florida

Any person convicted of violating Florida's statute prohibiting racing under Florida Statute Section 316.191(2), F.S., commits a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A first violation also results in a one-year revocation of the driver's license.

Florida law also provides for enhanced fines and penalties for each subsequent violation including:

  • a second violation within five (5) years of a prior violation is punishable with a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $3,000, and a revocation of the driver’s license for two (2) years;
  • A third or subsequent violation within 5 years of a prior violation is punishable with a fine of not less than $2,000 and not more than $5,000, and a revocation of the driver’s license for four (4) years.


Definitions of Racing and Drag Racing

According to the National Hot Rod Association, the term "drag race" is defined as an acceleration contest from a standing start between two vehicles over a measured distance.

As provided in Section 316.191(1)(c), F.S., the term “race” means the use of one or more motor vehicles:

  • in competition;
  • arising from a challenge to demonstrate superiority of a motor vehicle or driver;
  • the acceptance or competitive response to that challenge;
  • through a prior arrangement or in immediate response;
  • in which the competitor attempts to:
    • outgain or outdistance another motor vehicle;
    • to prevent another motor vehicle from passing;
    • to arrive at a given destination ahead of another motor vehicle or motor vehicles; or
    • to test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long-distance driving routes.

Because the driver's intent is often difficult to determine, Florida law provides that a race may be prearranged or may occur through a competitive response to conduct on the part of one or more drivers which, under the totality of the circumstances, can reasonably be interpreted as a challenge to race.

As provided in Section 316.191(1)(b), F.S., the term “drag race” is defined as:

  • the operation of two or more motor vehicles;
  • from a point side by side at accelerating speeds;
  • in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other;
  • the operation of one or more motor vehicles over a common selected course or from the same point to the same point;
  • for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of such motor vehicle or motor vehicles;
  • within a certain distance or time limit.

Obtaining Hardship Driving Privileges after a Racing Conviction

Under Section 316.191(3)(a)-(c), F.S., if the violation for racing results in the revocation of a person’s driver's license, the person may request a hearing pursuant to s. 322.271, F.S.

Under the statute for racing, if you enter a plea of guilty or no contest to the crime of racing, then you will be convicted of the crime. After a conviction, the court is required to impose a one-year suspension of your driver's license, even if the offense did not result in a crash or cause any property damage.

To obtain Hardship Reinstatement after a conviction for racing under Section 316.191, you must meet the eligibility requirements that include:

  • submitting an Application for a Hardship License (HSMV 78306);
  • pay a $12.00 or $25.00 Filing Fee to be determined by B.A.R staff;
  • submit to a CCIS check/inquiry prior to the hearing; and
  • show proof of ADI School completion as required by §322.271(2)(a).

Additional Resources

NHRA 101 - Visit the website of the National Hot Rod Association to find NHRA 101, a beginners guide to understanding the basics of drag racing as a sport in the United States.

History of Drag Racing - Visit the PBS website to find a feature story on the history of drag racing in the United States.


This article was last updated on Thursday, March 21, 2019.