Street Racing Laws

California Street Racing Laws

California laws mention street racing as a “speed contest”, which is illegal and punishable by law. Speed contest is defined as a race of a vehicle against another vehicle or a clock.

Street racing has certainly been made popular in recent years, but it’s highly illegal and can carry severe penalties if you get caught. In case you cause an injury you may be looking at several years of prison time, therefore street racing in California is definitely not recommended.

Street racing laws in California include all forms of speed racing, drag racing or drifting, and any exhibitions of speed which threatens the public safety.


Engaging in a speed contest in California is considered a misdemeanor. For a first penalty you may receive any or multiple penalties below:

  • minimum of 1 day and up to 90 days in county jail
  • fine of $355 to a maximum of $1000
  • 40 hours of community service
  • suspension or restriction of your driver’s license from 90 days to 6 months.

When arrested for a speed contest, the officer can also impound your vehicle for up to 30 days.

In case it’s not your first related conviction you may be charged with additional penalties. In case you have a previous conviction for street racing within 5 years, you’ll be looking at 4 days to 6 months in county jail, $500 – $1,000 fine, and a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license for 6 months.

In case your street racing caused an injury the penalties can increase to 30 days up to 6 months in county jail, and/or a fine between $500 and $1,000. Furthermore, in case of serious bodily injury (even includes concussion or loss of consciousness) you may be looking at a sentence of 16 months to 3 years in jail, and up to $10,000 fine.

Other related charges may include reckless driving, evading a police officer, or even destruction of property, each potentially carrying further penalties.

Spectators are liable too!

If you are watching a street racing event or are present at a location where preparations for such an event take place, you are considered a spectator.

According to California law, even as a spectator you are still liable for a potential citation.

Anyone who engages, aids or participates in a street race violates CA laws and may get punished under the same laws.

Fighting a speed racing ticket

There can be serious consequences to speed racing, and if you get charged you should consider fighting it in court. There are several legal defenses you can use.

As defined by California law, in order to participate in a speed contest you must operate a motor vehicle (car, truck, pickup, motorcycle, bus, etc.) on a highway (any public road), and do it willfully.

As such, street racing in private property would not be considered illegal. In order to classify it as “willfully”, the prosecution must prove that you intended to break the law or gain some sort of advantage.

Note: speed racing does not include an event where participants measure time to travel a route if it’s over 20 miles, and the vehicle does not exceed the speed limit during the event.

In case there is insufficient evidence that you engaged in a speed contest, you may be able to have (some) charges against you dropped. Additionally, if you have a medical condition which may cause you to drive faster than intended it may also be used as evidence that you did not engage in willful speed racing.

This sort of creative defense is normally only used with senior citizens, but we suggest contacting an attorney to see if any other legal defense can be applicable to your case.

Getting your charges dropped from street racing to reckless driving or even a mere speeding violation may severely reduce the penalties.

Other related street racing penalties

As per California Vehicle Code, you can be charged with additional violations.

Exhibition of speed

Exhibition of speed is considered either a misdemeanor or an infraction, and don’t include drivers license suspensions. Exhibition of speed is defined as accelerating or driving a vehicle at a dangerous speed in order to make an impression on other people.

Reckless driving

Driving with a disregard for safety of others or their property is considered reckless driving. It’s a misdemeanor carrying 5 to 90 days in jail or a fine of $145 to $1,000. See our California Reckless Driving Laws for more information.

Evading a police officer

It’s usually smarter to try and talk to a police officer and attempt to bargain for a more acceptable penalty, than to try and run. Intentionally fleeing from law enforcement is a misdemeanor, but it can escalate to a felony if there’s reckless driving involved while doing so.

Even a misdemeanor for evading a law enforcement officer carries a penalty of up to 1 year in county jail, which is much more harsh than getting caught in a speed contest.


This article about California Street Racing Laws was last updated in 2024. If any of our information is incomplete or outdated please let us know. Thank you!