Illegal street racing is on the rise and without “immediate action” from lawmakers, roadways will continue to be used as “potentially deadly drag strips,” Salt Lake City’s police chief told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Speaking in favor of SB53 — which would include certain speeding violations under Utah’s reckless driving code — Chief Mike Brown said street racing is a growing problem on Salt Lake City’s industrial west side.

According to Brown, the department saw a 467% increase in calls about illegal street racing in 2020, and calls “remained at an abnormally high level in 2021.” The department fielded 71 calls in 2019. That number jumped to 409 in 2020.

Brown said street races are dangerous for a variety of reasons, referencing a 19-year-old woman who was shot in the leg while watching an illegal race in 2020.

“For those who engage in street racing, there is little to no fear of punitive action and even less fear of being caught. As it is nearly impossible for law enforcement to navigate their way through the immense crowds, to the actual offenders — who rarely yield and typically flee,” Brown told the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee. “At the same time, there is absolutely no penalty for the crowds who fuel this dangerous activity.”

Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown testifies in the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Standing Committee about SB53 in the Senate Building at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“I have witnessed this issue with my own eyes,” said Salt Lake City Council Member Alejandro Puy. “Sometimes I feel like I live in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie — a movie that doesn’t have a happy ending, but innocent deaths.”

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A substitute version of SB53 addressed the issue of crowds, by proposing to make it illegal to watch a street race. It would have allowed prosecutors to charge spectators with a class B misdemeanor.

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Bill sponsor Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, eventually agreed to rework the language having to do with spectators, after colleagues expressed concern about charging those who are not directly involved with a street race.

Defense attorney Mark Moffat said he would be fine to see organizers of racing events charged — especially anyone who assisted in obstructing roadways — but said that “mere presence at the scene of the crime” is not inherently illegal.

“I would have the same concern with the bill ... the spectator portion of it,” said Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi.

Anderegg moved that Iwamoto rework some of the specific language before bringing the bill back to the committee. It is unclear when the bill might be reintroduced.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill watches from the back of the room as Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown and others testify in the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Standing Committee about SB53 in the Senate Building at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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