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New law upgrades street racing to Class E felony, stiff fines and up to six years in prison

As law enforcement agencies across the state continue to grapple with an epidemic of street racing,  Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a drag-racing law that will expand street racing from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony on Tuesday, May 21.

The law takes effect July 1.

Those prosecuted for the crime could face one to six years in prison, along with a $3,000 fine. Currently, they only face a possible year in prison and a potential $1,500 penalty.

“In the pursuit of safer streets and sounder communities, every measure counts. The new drag-racing law, bolstered by heightened penalties and fines, marks a pivotal step in fortifying our roadways against the dangers of reckless driving,” said the Memphis Police Department in a statement.

“The Memphis Police Department extends its sincere appreciation for this added support, recognizing the crucial role [the new law] plays in our ongoing efforts to uphold public safety and preserve the well-being of our residents.” the statement continued.

Through March, the MPD has only made three arrests for drag racing. To protect the public, existing policies currently prohibit the high-speed pursuit of street racers.

Cases can be difficult to prosecute too.  While they can track down a vehicle, it is more difficult for to prove who was driving. They also have to prove intent. 

“Drag racing and reckless driving have been a problem in Shelby County for the past few years, and represent a direct threat to public safety. It’s useful to have another tool to address it,” said a statement from Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy. “Drag racing itself is often difficult to prove, and that will still be a problem. 

“Where we can prove it, it’s good to know the law recognizes the gravity of the public safety threat,” Mulroy’s statement said.

The bill was sponsored by Representative John Gillespie, R-Memphis and Senator Brent Taylor, R-Eads. 

Both had previously sponsored a bill that would have seized cars from convicted drag racers and sold their vehicles. The money would have gone to the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury fund.

It failed earlier this year. 

Undeterred, Gillespie plans to introduce the bill again. He also wants to upgrade the most severe cases to a new crime,  especially aggravated reckless driving. It would be a Class C felony punishable by 3-15 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

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