Texas law enforcement agencies banded together to combat illegal street racing and takeovers as communities across the state celebrated Mexican Independence Day on September 16.
The holiday is traditionally marked by food, festivities and car meetups. But, in recent years, those meetups have been overshadowed by street racing.
Cars gathering and taking over Highway 90 on the West side, with police in pursuit, has become familiar scene. An incident on the highway occurred during Mexican Independence Day weekend in 2020.
Bob Arevalo, a member of the Push Rods Car Club in San Antonio, said that car clubs like his are focused on tradition, not trouble.
“We’re just old hot rodders that like our cars to cruise in,” Arevalo explained. “Of course, we like to step on the gas every now and then, but no racing, no dangerous stuff.”
To deter the dangerous behavior exhibited by street racers, Texas lawmakers passed two significant bills, HB 2899 and HB 1442, which were signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in August.
These laws enhance law enforcements’ capabilities to combat illegal street racing and takeovers by enabling the immediate seizure and impoundment of cars involved in these activities, and even allowing police to arrest or fine bystanders recording such events.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw issued a warning to the unlawful hobbyists: “Make no mistake about it, the statute of limitations is three years. We’ve got plenty of time to find you, and we will find you.”
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and the San Antonio Police Department have also taken a proactive stance, with specialized units patrolling the area to ensure community safety during major holiday weekends.
“Each and every day our Traffic Safety Unit, Organized Crime Division, and our Gang Unit are out in full force to deter and crackdown on illegal operations such as these. As major holiday weekends approach, our specialized units will be patrolling Bexar County to keep our community safe,” the BCSO said in a statement.
HB 2899 and HB 1442 also authorize law enforcement to permanently seize and, in some cases, auction off vehicles used in street racing or reckless driving. This measure is expected to have a significant deterrent effect on participants who risk losing their vehicles.
According to San Antonio Police Sergeant James Smith, the law will have a significant impact on public safety, especially over the holidays. “I really think this is going to be a very beneficial law to help keep the citizens of San Antonio a lot safer,” he said. “We’re not going to catch them all. But I think once word of mouth gets out there and they start seeing their buddies’ cars getting seized and filed on and possibly auctioned or converted to agency use. I think this is going to have a drastic effect, in my opinion, of maybe stopping this behavior.”
Illegal street racing and takeovers have also drawn sharp criticism from legitimate car clubs.
Charles Niemeyer, president of the Alamo Area Corvette Club, disapproved of the activity. “We’ve had a couple try to join our club that were into it,” he said. “They call it the midnight clubs, and we won’t condone it or allow them to join our club because we’re not into that.”
Law enforcement agencies across Texas have welcomed these new laws as a means to combat dangerous street racing.
Lieutenant Jay Swann of the Austin Police Department emphasized the grave dangers associated with street takeovers. “It’s so dangerous. It’s not fun. It’s not funny. It’s not cute. It’s very, very dangerous activity,” he said.
As of September 1, HB 2829 allows immediate vehicle impoundment for street racing or reckless driving without the need for property damage or bodily injury, further enhancing the penalties for these crimes.
Sergeant Carla Burr of the Amarillo Police Department also applauded the move, saying it would help curb the activity and potentially make participants think twice before taking part in illegal street racing.
Furthermore, Sheriff Brian Thomas of the Potter County Sheriff’s Office issued a warning against street racing in urban areas, encouraging the use of safe racing venues like the Amarillo Dragway.
To raise awareness and provide a safe alternative, the Amarillo Police Department will host the “Race-a-Cop” event, encouraging racers to participate legally and safely. The event aims to discourage illegal street racing and promote responsible racing behavior.