AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department responded to four different reckless driving incidents late Saturday and early Sunday morning, an act officers described as “street takeovers.”

The incidents — which began around 9 p.m. at the South Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road intersection and ended close to 2 a.m. at the Metric Boulevard and Braker Lane intersection — involved cars blocking intersections, doing donuts, shooting fireworks and reports of thrown glass bottles at responding officers.

But what are street takeovers, and how do they differ from other forms of reckless driving like street racing?

Street takeovers explainer

KXAN’s sister station KTLA in Los Angeles reported on illegal street takeovers increasing in frequency in June 2022. KTLA reported takeovers typically involve “flash mobs” of spectators along with several cars that coordinate the takeovers at specific times at predetermined intersections.

Takeovers, also referred to as “sideshows,” involve blocking off intersections and speeding or showing off stunts like drifting, donuts and ghost riding — when the driver jumps out of the car while it’s in motion to dance or perform near or on the car before jumping back in to take over the vehicle.

Just like with Austin’s takeover Saturday night, the sideshows are often filmed by participants and onlookers before being posted on social media, which Los Angeles Police told KTLA can further incentivize these types of events.

How is street racing different from street takeovers?

Street racing, by comparison, is when multiple vehicles intentionally drive above the speed limit to see who can out-distance each other, per Law Insider. Street racing can happen on both streets as well as in off-street parking areas.

While drivers might be driving fast in a street takeover, sideshows focus more-so on performative stunts with the vehicles as opposed to trying to out-race another car.

Has there been an increase in street takeovers?

The Associated Press reported in May 2021 a spike in street racing and takeover incidents, amid the coronavirus pandemic and changes in traffic volumes as a result. With less traffic on highways and local thoroughfares, communities across the country saw surges in reckless driving incidents.

As a result, several states added or enhanced laws punishing reckless drivers participating in roadway takeovers and street racing. That included the state of Texas, which amended its criminal offenses for reckless driving and upgraded certain offenses from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor. It also added the following:

  • Class A misdemeanors include offenses where it’s shown at a trial that the person operating the vehicle was “engaging in a reckless driving exhibition”
  • That offense could be a state jail felony if it’s shown at the trial the accused offender was operating the vehicle, driving recklessly at the time of the incident and had previously been convicted of reckless driving, was operating the vehicle while intoxicated or a person suffered an injury or death as a result of the accused offender’s actions

The Texas bill — introduced as Senate Bill 1495 and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott — defined a “reckless driving exhibition” as the following:

“Reckless driving exhibition” means an operator of a motor vehicle, on a highway or
street and in the presence of two or more persons assembled for the purpose of spectating the conduct, intentionally:
(1) breaking the traction of the vehicle ’s rear tires;
(2) spinning the vehicle ’s rear tires continuously by pressing the accelerator and increasing the engine speed; and
(3) steering the vehicle in a manner designed to rotate the vehicle.

Texas Senate Bill 1495, Enrolled Version

Those charged with a state felony could be fined up to $4,000 as well as could serve up to a year in jail. People caught and found guilty of driving recklessly can also be fined. Cars can be confiscated if the driver of them is also found to be a repeat offender, had an open container in the vehicle and/or caused another person’s injury or death due to their driving.

Another Texas law passed in 2021 — formerly known as House Bill 2315 — now allows law enforcement personnel to confiscate cars in certain situations.