Mink Refuses to Support Bigger Penalties for Street Racing – Montgomery Perspective

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By Adam Pagnucco.
When the General Assembly is in session, the Montgomery County Council often meets on Mondays to consider taking positions on state bills.  Council members may decide as a body to support bills, oppose bills or take no position due to a lack of information and/or consensus.  This past Monday, one of the bills the council reviewed was HB 601 (cross-filed as SB 442), which deals with street racing.
Street racing and reckless exhibition driving have been in the news a lot lately as drivers compete, often at night, with spectators watching.  The most recent incident happened Saturday night in Takoma Park but there have been many.  Perhaps the most notorious example in MoCo occurred two years ago in Downtown Silver Spring as shown in the video below.

HB 601 cracks down on street racing in various ways.  Its fiscal note explains:
This bill increases penalties and points assessments for violations related to participation in racing or speed contests. The bill also establishes a statewide prohibition on exhibition driving on any highway or private property that is used for driving by the general public. By expanding application of an existing provision, the bill establishes a statewide prohibition on exhibition driving, racing, and other related activities in a special event zone. The bill takes effect June 1, 2024.
The bill adds and expands penalties for participating in speed contests and exhibition driving (which it defines for the first time), with fines of up to $1,000 and prison terms of up to one year.  Among its sponsors are Montgomery County Delegates Linda Foley, David Fraser-Hidalgo, Anne Kaiser, Julie Palakovich Carr, Emily Shetty, Jared Solomon, Vaughn Stewart, Joe Vogel and Jheanelle Wilkins.  Some of these delegates are among the most progressive in Annapolis and Wilkins chairs the Black caucus.
Nearly the entire county council jumped all over themselves to support this bill.  (Council Member Laurie-Anne Sayles was absent from the meeting.)  Even Council Member Will Jawando, a frequent skeptic of police authority, supported it.
In making the case for the bill, MCPD Assistant Chief Marc Yamada estimated that reckless driving and/or excessive speeds had accounted for 40% of serious traffic crashes in the last three years.  He said that it was difficult and dangerous to stop speed racers in the act, but that they could be tracked down later.  He related that there are currently few consequences for violators since they often do not own their vehicles and do not have licenses.  As a result, the violators keep violating, sometimes for years.  He pointed out, “Other states, other jurisdictions have penalties that are more enhanced than our own and that has enabled them to get out in front of this.”

Assistant Chief Marc Yamada, who currently heads the department’s Field Services Bureau.
Just one council member, Kristin Mink, pushed back on the bill.  Here is a transcript of her first reaction to it from video of the council meeting.
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I agree that this is an important issue that we’ve all been hearing about, that we all want to do something about, and as do I.  I just have questions about whether this is the right tool, whether we’ve seen legislation like this be effective in other jurisdictions.  I don’t know how much time we have to get into it, but I would have been also curious to hear from MCPD about how this would enhance their ability to enforce and whether this is the best route to go.  I know that generally speaking, research and data is not good when it comes to trying to crack down on certain classes of crime by increasing penalties.  That’s typically not effective and has a lot of unintended consequences.  So I would like to – I’m not comfortable supporting this right now without more information.
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After other council members spoke, Council President Andrew Friedson called for a vote on whether to support the bill.  But Mink spoke again.  Here is a transcript of her exchange with Assistant Chief Yamada.
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Mink: I just wanted to – if there’s a short – since you’re at the, up at the table now, Assistant Chief Yamada, if there’s a very brief answer that you can get to – give us to help me understand what the additional tools are that this… I see that this has enhanced penalties, but what additional tools does this give to our officers to be able to enforce, to stop somebody, to enforce?  Like, because you mentioned somebody, that there has been a warrant, we’ve arrested before, it seems like it would be helpful to do that in more situations but does this help us do that or is this just greater penalties when you are able to do that?
Yamada: I’m not sure what – I’m not sure I’m understanding what you mean by additional tools.  There are enhanced penalties.  It creates consequences for these violators and is another method of deterrence.
Mink: OK.  So – but we are currently able to arrest people if you can get a warrant, track them down, all those, but that’s – it’s difficult to do, right?
Yamada: It is very difficult to do.  As I said, a lot of times these violators are not driving cars that belong to them so it’s not like I can run the tag or see the tag as it goes by, note the tag and then go back and locate the violator.  They do not have licenses.
Mink: So it seems to me that that’s the bigger problem here and that this bill doesn’t actually help with that, it just makes it so that if we catch somebody, we can give them a bigger penalty but I do think it would be worth thinking about how we could create additional tools for being able to actually find and stop people.  Thank you.
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It’s worth noting that in an earlier exchange with Jawando, Yamada specifically named the US-29 corridor as a frequent location for speed racing.  That is one of the most heavily traveled parts of Mink’s district.
The council then held its vote on whether to support the bill.  All attendees except Mink voted yes.   Mink voted to hold the bill, meaning no position at this time.

Mink (at right) casts the sole vote to hold the street racing bill.
It’s unclear what Mink believes would be an effective approach to crack down on street racing.  Perhaps her constituents will ask about this in the next election.
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