New law increases drag race penalty as more crashes happen in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — More violent crashes are happening in the city of Memphis.

As pandemic restrictions loosen and more people fill the streets, police say street racing is also picking up.

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It’s causing major traffic issues, which can lead to deadly consequences.

Starting next month, a new law will increase the penalty for illegal drag racing statewide.

“We see a lot of it around here,” said Stanley Taylor, a resident of north Memphis.

Revving engines, street racing, and police sirens often keep Taylor and his neighbors up at night.

He said the street racing in his neighborhood has gotten more frequent since the pandemic began.

“I’m concerned some kid might get run over because Hollywood is a busy street as it is,” he said. 

Now that businesses are back open, Colonel Keith Watson with the Memphis Police Department said the streets are becoming more congested, and street racers are putting drivers at risk.

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“Those young drivers, those novice drivers who thought they could get away with some of those excessive speeds that we saw in 2020, need to know we’re cracking down,” he said. “In 2021, we are nearing 11,000 crashes in the streets of Memphis.”

That’s why Memphis police and state lawmakers are cracking down on drag racing.

A new bill signed into law earlier this month will increase the penalty for illegal street racing state-wide starting July 1st.

“This new law will make it a Class A misdemeanor, and the maximum penalty could be 11 months and 29 days in prison,” Watson said.

The previous penalty was six months jail time. Offenders may also get their vehicles seized.

Colonel Watson said officers are heavily patrolling areas known for street racing.

“These officers will stop you, ticket you and address any problem they see with your vehicle,” he said.

Meanwhile, residents like Taylor hope the new law will slow down the speeders.

“The police are doing the best they can,” he said. “If we can get them to stop the drag racing around here, it would be alright.”

State Rep. John Gillespie of Memphis was one of the sponsors of the bill. He also said drag racing has become a major nuisance and safety hazard over the past year, and the new law is a step in the right direction.

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