Oregon lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow police to seize vehicles used for illegal street races. (Photo provided by Portland Police Bureau)

The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill with tougher penalties for people convicted of illegal street racing, a move that comes amid deaths from the activity that have killed Oregon drivers and pedestrians.

Senate Bill 615 passed with a 19-7 bipartisan vote and now goes to the House. The bill increases penalties for people convicted of street racing with up to 364 days in jail, a $6,250 fine, or both on the first offense. A second offense within five years would be a felony that can carry up to five years in prison, a $125,000 fine or both. 

Street racing involves two or more vehicles illegally racing each other in a public area, usually a street or highway. In February, one racer died and two were injured in an illegal race in north Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. Last August, a bystander was struck and killed in a street-racing incident in Portland. 

The bill allows law enforcement to seize street racers’ cars under criminal forfeiture laws that empower police to take property connected to illegal activity. 

“Street racing is dangerous for racers, other road users and pedestrians,” the chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, said in a statement. “Increasing the options available to law enforcement, such as locking up speed racers’ cars, will deter this reckless and dangerous activity and save lives.” 

The successful “Fast & Furious” film franchise about a group of street racers has put a spotlight on the activity.

“Fast & Furious should be in our theaters, not on our streets,” said Sen. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, who presented the bill on the Senate floor. “This legislation will protect families and make Oregon safer for everyone.”

The bill expands the definition of speed racing to include people who organize an event, including obstructing or placing a barricade on a highway.

Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, was among those opposed to the bill. He said the expanded definition is problematic because it could ensnare young people who unwittingly act at the behest of their older siblings. The law should focus on the drivers, he said.

“We’ve stretched the boundary, and we’ve stretched the boundary just an inch too far,” he said.

Under current Oregon law, speed racing is a class A traffic violation and carries a fine of about $440.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.