Lawmakers look to crack down on illegal street racing

Updated: Jan. 4, 2021 at 6:06 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Illegal street racers brought traffic on I-240 to a standstill on Saturday night.

The backup happened near the Walnut Grove exit just after 10 p.m.

Drivers had no choice but to stop and watch the illegal street racers do donuts in the middle of one of the busiest roadways in Memphis.

“I’m disgusted and horrified by it,” said State Rep. John Gillespie. “It is very scary.”

Gillespie has seen the videos shared on social media, showing the backed-up traffic and the illegal street racers performing their dangerous stunts.

He’s also seen and heard about other incidents.

He says enough is enough.

“I’m a little afraid to drive myself on 240 and I-40 and I know hundreds of thousands of people have to do it every day to get to work, to get to school,” said Gillespie.

Gillespie has been working with State Sen. Brian Kelsey and Memphis City Councilman Ford Canale on legislation to crack down on illegal street racers.

Kelsey and Gillespie filed a bill that would classify drag racing as a Class A misdemeanor, which means anyone convicted of illegal street racing could be punished with a fine up to $2,500 and/or up-to a year in jail.

“What we want to do is we want to send the message out there that [illegal street racing] is serious. It’s not just fun, but it’s reckless and an endangerment not only to the driver but also to others that are driving around you and to pedestrians,” said Kelsey.

Canale says he’s not only witnessed this type of behavior firsthand but has received complaints from across the city.

“Using a vehicle in this manner is just as harmful as having a deadly weapon,” said Canale. “No neighborhood is immune to this, including our interstate system. It’s become a real problem. It’s dangerous. It’s negligent. It’s reckless. Innocent lives are going to be taken if this continues.”

Canale says he would like to also see others who take part, but aren’t behind the wheel themselves, punished.

Gillespie says he’s working to help provide police with more tools, like cameras that can read license plates to hopefully deter this type of behavior.

He says citizens can also help by reporting illegal street racers to the police immediately.

Memphis police say by the time officers arrived the illegal street racers were long gone.

In a statement, MPD said, “The Memphis Police Department will not tolerate criminal acts like this. Reckless stunt driving puts the community in danger and could result in the injury or death of the participants, spectators and nearby drivers. We encourage anyone who witnesses this type of criminal behavior to call and report it immediately to the proper authorities.”

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