Maybe you’re at home and hear an engine roar in the distance, or perhaps you’re driving in your car when bright lights go speeding by; street racing is a problem across Florida and can have deadly consequences.
The sights and sounds of street racing are easy to recognize. Kyle Martins, a traffic homicide investigator with the Fort Myers Police Department, says the issue has left its mark on Southwest Florida.
“There’s a street racing problem all throughout the country, and we’re not immune to it. City-wide, we receive complaints from citizens all across our jurisdiction,” said Martins.
Florida Highway Patrol Lieutenant Greg Bueno says his troopers also deal with it on the interstate. “There is an aggressiveness, a lack of patience, trying to outdistance each other. We have seen that.”
Whether at a stoplight or an empty street, what starts as a hobby can end as a dangerous crime.
“A street race killed my daughter,” said Lili Trujillo-Puckett. Her teenage daughter was killed while a passenger in a street racing crash in 2014. “It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. And I think every year feels the same. Like, really? No, it can’t be that long.”
The next year, Trujillo-Puckett formed ‘Street Racing Kills’ and now works as a safety advocate. SRK runs numerous programs to promote safe driving in states across the country.
Trujillo-Puckett knows the danger will never be totally eliminated. “You lose control. You’re not a professional racer. You don’t know how to control speed,” said said. “You’re going so fast there’s no way you can stop. You can kill someone or kill yourself.”
For those looking to slow down the high-speed problem, help has arrived. Governor Ron DeSantis green-lit a law that went into effect in October.
“It’s another tool in our tool belt,” said Bueno.
The new law is called a misdemeanor exception. It allows law enforcement to arrest and prosecute street racers for videos they post online or on social media. In the past, officers had to witness the crime as it happened.
“I think it’s gonna help a lot. I think it’s a life-saving bill, to be honest with you. I think it should have been done a long time ago,” said Trujillo-Puckett.
“It certainly makes our job a lot easier. Most likely, in this area, it will result in a lot more arrests for the misdemeanor of racing,” said Martins. “That will help deter that behavior and, in the future, save lives.”
Law enforcement says racers love attention, showing off their cars, motorcycles, and speed on various social media sites.
Now, those videos can be used in cases that could end with fines, take cars off the streets and even throw reckless drivers behind bars.
“To hold someone accountable through an arrest, that’s a win. Because, again, we’re trying to deter that behavior,” Bueno said.
“It’s about saving your life. It’s about saving you from going to prison if you kill someone,” said Trujillo-Puckett.
Law enforcement says the easiest way to help put the brakes on illegal street racing is to call every time you hear or see a race.
“If we don’t know about it, we don’t have an idea of where it’s going on. We can’t take any action on it,” said Martins.
It’s a tough crime to catch, but now it’s easier to punish. Charges for street racing start as a first-degree criminal misdemeanor and carry a mandatory driver’s license suspension of one year.