By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
With two teenagers recently killed in connection with exhibition driving incidents in the city, members of the Birmingham City Council’s transportation committee said a “disregard for life” is putting more lives in jeopardy.
On Sunday, five were shot during an incident, including 19-year-old Ja’Kia Winston who died on the scene. Police said a 23-year-old was taken into custody a short time after the shooting and is in the custody of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office held on a $1.5 million bond.
On July 24, 14-year-old Kamari Deshaun Adams was killed when he was struck during a race on a West Birmingham road.
Councilor LaTonya Tate, chair of the council’s public safety committee and a member of the transportation committee, said on Monday exhibition racing cannot continue because it’s costing innocent lives, and she witnessed first-hand how it could happen.
“Just last week, coming down Third Avenue, I was boxed in by two motorcycles. My car is in a lane, and they both are on the side of my car, and then I look over to my right, and a car was racing down Third Avenue,” Tate recalled.
“To encounter something like that and to be just an innocent person driving down the road, and you have people that have no regard for life, is a problem for me or anyone,” she added.
After 19-year-old Winston was killed, Mayor Randall Woodfin released a statement calling for, among other measures, increased penalties to drivers engaging in exhibition driving and for people encouraging the behavior. Woodfin said the city would work with state legislators to bring about the stronger response to exhibition driving.
His administration will push for penalties that include a license suspension of one year for anyone caught as an exhibition driver; the vehicle impounded and the driver fined $1,000 for the first offense and $2,000 for the second offense. Anyone participating as passengers and encouraging such actions should also be held accountable, he said.
“That’s my position as well,” Tate said, “working with the legislators to strengthen laws…,” Tate said.
Exhibition driving has been described as driving a vehicle in a manner which creates or causes unnecessary engine noise, tire squeal, skid, or slide upon acceleration or braking; or driving and executing or attempting one or a series of unnecessarily abrupt turns.
Councilor Clinton Woods, a member of the transportation committee, said it’s “frustrating” to see residents making decisions to participate in exhibition driving, something which puts “lives at risk,” he said.
“People are putting a lot of money in cars, and then they’re out there, where you’re a couple of feet [away], and multiple people can be killed. When you’re talking about those thinner margins, you’re gonna see tragedy happen,” Woods said.
The city needs “more of an aggressive posture to stop” the activity including legislative options and use of traffic cameras to identify exhibition driving hot spots in the city, as well as the drivers who participate in the dangerous behavior, Woods said.
Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, chair of the transportation committee, emphasized the importance of fully staffing all public safety departments.
“Police presence deters crime, and I think that part of the reason that this is an issue is because our police presence isn’t at an adequate level to sufficiently deter it,” O’Quinn said.
Deterring the driving behavior can be difficult because the people performing the activity are looking for attention, he added.
“The issue with the exhibition driving is that these folks are trying to be seen. They want to go to places where they will be seen, so they’re not interested in some abandoned road out in the middle of the country.”
“They want to be at places like City Walk where they can attract a big crowd and have some unique backdrop for their Instagram video or their TikTok…” he added.