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Louisville Metro Council increases penalties for street racing

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After video of people drag racing on Interstate 264 went viral this summer, many residents and city officials expressed concern and called on police to direct resources toward stopping these street takeovers.

Louisville Metro Council members unanimously approved new penalties for illegal street racing and reckless driving at their meeting Thursday night. 

The ordinance, authored by Council President David James of District 6 and District 8 Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong, both Democrats, will allow law enforcement to impose a civil fine against anyone engaged in street racing or promoting a race. The first offense would carry a $1,000 fine, which would increase to $2,000 for any subsequent violation. Louisville Metro will also impound the vehicles of people caught participating in “vehicle speed contests” for six months.

At a meeting of Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee last week, Chambers Armstrong said the new provisions will give Louisville Metro Police new tools to discourage a dangerous practice. 

“LMPD lacks the ability, and rightly so, to engage in pursuing these vehicles because it often creates an unsafe situation,” she said. “So, the ability to then go after the fact and impound the vehicle is something that is a really important tool.”

With the approval of the ordinance, Metro Council is taking a cue from the Chicago City Council, which approved similar changes in July. Like the Chicago ordinance, Louisville’s new measure allows law enforcement to seize a vehicle, even if the owner isn’t present.

In addition to street racing, the ordinance also makes it illegal to participate in a “reckless driving exhibition” — like “burnouts, doughnuts, drifting, wheelies, or other dangerous vehicle activity” — on public streets. 

Fifty-eight people have died on Jefferson County roadways so far this year and another 278 people have suffered serious injuries, according to Metro’s Vision Zero dashboard. The county saw a spike of vehicle deaths in 2020 and 2021, with nearly 100 people killed in each of those years.

In July, videos and photos of traffic on I-264 at a standstill in Louisville spread on social media. A large group of people were shown  doing burnouts, doughnuts and other risky stunts, blocking other vehicles from getting by. Some onlookers left their vehicles and stood atop the barricades.

District 7 Council Member Paula McCraney, a Democrat, said at the committee meeting the issue is not limited to certain roads or parts of Jefferson County. She said this kind of dangerous driving was a problem at Carrie Gaulbert Cox Park, which was in her East End district prior to redistricting last year.

“If you go there now, you can still see signs of all the street racing and the wheelies and all of the black marks that they left behind,” McCraney said. “Lives are being lost because of this reckless behavior.”

The ordinance requires law enforcement to have probable cause, such as video or witness statements, before impounding someone’s vehicle for street racing. Anyone whose vehicle is seized will have 14 days from the time they receive notice to appeal the impoundment to the Louisville Metro Code Enforcement Board. 

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.