New Ryan’s Law Aims to Punish Illegal Street Racing and Reckless Driving
New Ryan’s Law Aims to Punish Illegal Street Racing and Reckless Driving
Jan 13, 2023
Illegal street racing has become a public safety issue in California, with elected officials taking steps last year to increase penalties for such traffic infractions. Through legislation known as California Assembly Bill 3 (AB 3), illegal street takeovers, sideshow events, and excessive speeding can now be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for up to 90 days as well as a fine of $500.
California AB 3 went into effect at the beginning of 2022, but additional legislation was passed later that same year which provides judges and district attorneys to further punish illegal street racers.
Known as Ryan’s Law or California Senate Bill 1472 (SB 1472), the new legislation gives prosecutors and judges the power to charge drivers who are involved in illegal street racing, takeovers, or sideshow events with felony manslaughter if their actions lead to a traffic fatality.
California Senator Henry Stern, the law’s author, said it will “finally force DAs across the state of California to enforce our laws when there are incidents of manslaughter with vehicles and reckless driving. Whether it’s from street racing, side shows or even extreme speeding,” according to ABC 7.
“Those events are not just casual traffic infractions. When they take somebody’s life, that’s a murder. The law now says that,” Stern said in November 2022.
Ryan’s Law officially took effect on January 1 of this year. The legislation is named after Ryan Koeppel, a 16-year-old who was killed by a reckless driver in August 2020.
Following the passage of SB 1472, Koeppel’s parents expressed relief that the new law will have harsher penalties for reckless drivers who cause someone’s death, according to ABC 7.
“Today, I feel like we are getting some justice for him so that his legacy will live on in this bill by making sure that future drivers that kill somebody don’t just walk away with a slap on the wrist. There needs to be greater consequences when you break the law and kill someone,” Ryan’s mother, Carin Koeppel, told ABC last year.
Text of Ryan’s Law (California SB 1472)
The text of California Senate Bill 1472 reads accordingly:
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:
This act shall be known, and may be cited, as Ryan’s Law.
The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
- Ensuring our local streets and highways are protected from reckless drivers and excessive speeding is of the highest priority.
- Last year, the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued findings that showed while Americans drove less in 2020 due to the pandemic, an estimated 39,000 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, which is the largest number of fatalities since 2007, and represents an increase of about 7.2 percent compared to the 36,096 fatalities reported in 2019.
- In 2020, the State of California reported around 3,723 motor vehicle deaths, a slight increase from the year before.
- In 2021, traffic collisions killed 294 individuals in the City of Los Angeles, a 24-percent increase from 2020.
- In 2021, traffic accidents in the City of Los Angeles involving serious injury to pedestrians was up by 45 percent and serious injury to bicyclists was up by 34 percent from 2020.
- Exacerbating these fatalities and serious injuries is the prevalence of street racing and sideshows. According to the Department of the California Highway Patrol, in 2021, they responded to almost 6,000 of those events, issuing 2,500 citations statewide, making 87 arrests, and recovering 17 firearms.
- Recent increases in local street and highway fatalities, serious injuries, and the dangers of street racing is resulting in an epidemic of reckless driving and disregard for public safety.
- Law enforcement at the state and local level must be provided increased funding, additional resources, and effective statutory changes to maximize their efforts in combating reckless speeding and street racing.
Section 192 of the Penal Code is amended to read:
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds:
- Voluntary-upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
- Involuntary-in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.
- Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.
- Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.
- Driving a vehicle in connection with a violation of paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 550, where the vehicular collision or vehicular accident was knowingly caused for financial gain and proximately resulted in the death of any person. This paragraph does not prevent prosecution of a defendant for the crime of murder.
- This section shall not be construed as making any homicide in the driving of a vehicle punishable that is not a proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, or of the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner.
- “Gross negligence,” as used in this section, does not prohibit or preclude a charge of murder under Section 188 upon facts exhibiting wantonness and a conscious disregard for life to support a finding of implied malice, or upon facts showing malice, consistent with the holding of the California Supreme Court in People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290.
- “Gross negligence,” as used in this section, may include, based on the totality of the circumstances, any of the following:
- Participating in a sideshow pursuant to subparagraph (A) of subparagraph (2) of subdivision (i) of Section 23109 of the Vehicle Code.
- An exhibition of speed pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 23109 of the Vehicle Code.
- Speeding over 100 miles per hour.
- For purposes of determining sudden quarrel or heat of passion pursuant to subdivision (a), the provocation was not objectively reasonable if it resulted from the discovery of, knowledge about, or potential disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, including under circumstances in which the victim made an unwanted nonforcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant, or if the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship. Nothing in this section shall preclude the jury from considering all relevant facts to determine whether the defendant was in fact provoked for purposes of establishing subjective provocation.
As ABC 7 reported last year, Senator Stern confirmed that there is approximately $100 million in the California state budget earmarked for additional law enforcement as well as overtime – both of which will go toward cracking down on reckless driving and illegal street racing. Approximately $6 million of that will be directed to Southern California.
The Scope of California’s Illegal Street Racing Problem
Illegal street racing and sideshows have become so commonplace in California that law enforcement officials have conducted sting operations in an effort to “stop street racers in their tracks.”
In July 2021, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Traffic Division set up a sting with the California Highway Patrol. The operation included 54 officers who gathered for a briefing and then set out across the valley on a mission to locate and arrest anyone engaging in illegal street racing.
“We wanna solve the problem,” LAPD Valley Traffic Sergeant Jodie McGee said to CBS, adding that “…the only way to solve the problem is arresting these guys and hitting them where it counts and that’s where it cost[s] them money.”
That same year, street racing led to at least two tragic fatalities in Orange County, including a high-profile death involving a local journalist.
“Eugene Harbrecht, a longtime editor with the Orange County Register, was killed when a car that was street racing hit his truck. A month prior to Harbrecht’s death, a Huntington Beach videographer – Daniel ‘Dano’ Patten – was killed while filming an illegal street race in Carson. Patten was reportedly known for filming car shows and other events around the city,” Dordulian Law Group noted in a recent blog.
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