MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A bill is headed to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s desk, and local legislators are hoping it gives teeth to illegal drag racing laws.
House Bill 22 passed in the Tennessee House this week, the final step before heading to the governor’s desk to become law.
“Once the governor signs it and it becomes law July 1, drag racing or organized street racing on a public street or parking lot will be a class A misdemeanor,” said Rep. John Gillespie (R-Memphis), a sponsor.
That means the penalty will be stiffer — up to a year behind bars and a hefty fine.
Gillespie says he sponsored the bill in the House because he says illegal drag racing is out of control.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get an email or a phone call or just someone in a public area around town that doesn’t mention unsafe driving on the street,” he said.
Police say boredom and fewer cars on the road during COVID led to more people illegally drag racing and doing stunts all over the city, including cases we’ve showed you on Interstate 240, Summer Avenue and Riverside Drive.
Police say they have had to set up task forces and call other agencies to help crack down. WREG also just uncovered new data showing that MPD arrested 31 people last year for illegal drag racing. Two were juveniles.
We asked MPD for the arrests and reports from previous years. Officials say they received 1,973 calls in 2020, 1,063 calls in 2019 and 843 calls in 2018.
During the discussion on the House floor, we learned this isn’t just a problem in Memphis on streets like Summer Avenue, but something that other cities, big and rural, across the state are facing.
“This has become a very serious issue in my district here in Nashville,” said Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville).
Rep. Dale Carter (R-Sevierville) said in his county, a couple of drag racing incidents have resulted in fatalities.
The governor’s office told WREG the governor intends to sign the bill. Local leaders say they may also try to pass local ordinances that would add even more consequences to those participating in illegal drag racing events.