By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Exhibition drivers in Birmingham could be fined, jailed or have their cars impounded, according to the draft of a new Alabama House of Representatives bill, which Mayor Randall Woodfin unveiled alongside state legislators from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday at City Hall.
Exhibition driving has risen across the country, including places like Birmingham, and residents expect something to be done to combat the “reckless” and “dangerous” behavior, Woodfin said.
“Legislators will tell you there is no current law that’s isolated to actual exhibition driving, so with the help of our state legislators and a state senator, we believe we have the opportunity to change that and actually put something in writing in law, as well as teeth in enforcement,” Woodfin said.
The bill’s presentation, which has Democrat and Republican support, comes after an Aug. 7 incident where five were shot and one killed in a dispute during an exhibition driving gathering downtown. That same week, Woodfin held a press conference with Birmingham Police Chief Scott Thurmond to call on legislators to help stop the behavior.
Exhibition driving means driving a vehicle in a manner which disturbs the peace by creating or causing 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.
Alabama Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief who wrote the bill presented Tuesday, said he had been in conversation with Woodfin since August. The new bill, he hopes, will deter people from engaging in exhibition driving, if passed.
“A lot of these folks, if they realize that they can go to jail, lose their license, have their vehicle impounded, we’re hoping that’s enough to send a strong enough message, that they won’t participate in this type of behavior in such dangerous ways,” Treadaway said.
State Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, a co-sponsor the bill, said she knows first-hand importance of the legislation in the district she represents.
“We have a walking ministry going up and down [John Rogers Drive in eastern Birmingham]. We also have bicyclists going up and down that street, and sometimes we have folks out there late at night, working or minding the grounds of the church over in that area, and it can be very dangerous for anyone to be out there during that time,” she said.
Alabama Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, plans to introduce a bill in the Senate. “This is all about public safety … so I look forward to us moving that forward,” Smitherman said.
Birmingham City Councilor LaTonya Tate, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said partnering with the delegation is the right thing to do.
“I am pleased to work alongside Mayor Woodfin and our legislative delegation to combat and put a stop to dangerous exhibition driving that has claimed the lives of innocent individuals. Together, we can put the brakes on exhibition driving and make our streets safer,” Tate said in a statement.
The next regular legislative session is scheduled to convene on March 7, 2023.
According to the bill, first offenders would receive a fine between $25 and $500, or jailed for between five and 90 days, and subsequent offenders would receive a fine between $50 and $500 and/or be jailed for between 10 days and six months. Additionally, those charged could be prohibited from driving for up to six months.
If property damage or minor bodily injury occurs as a result of exhibition driving, offending drivers would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could have their license denied for six months. If serious bodily injury or death happens as a result of the behavior, offending drivers would be guilty of a felony and could lose their license for two years.
Under the bill, officers who arrest individuals engaging in exhibition driving could impound the drivers’ vehicles for a minimum of 48 hours at the owner’s expense, and after three or more exhibition driving offenses, individuals could have to forfeit their car.