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Sideshows and Illegal Street Racing—An Increasing Issue in Nevada

Northern Nevada is home to several automobile exhibition and motor events, including Hot August Nights and the Street Vibrations. However, over the past few years, Northern Nevadans have since an increase in another type of automobile exhibition—Sideshows. Sideshows are held illegally on public roads and highways where large groups of people often come to watch drivers’ race, as well as perform stunts like donuts (when a driver drives in circles while pulling their emergency break), drifts burnouts and other car tricks.

Sideshows are illegal and are often a traffic safety threats. They often cause backups in public highways. Sideshows also often involve the following criminal citations depending on the state:

  • Disturbing the peace
  • Trespassing
  • Loitering
  • DUIs
  • Reckless Driving
  • Criminal Charges for drag racing
  • Exhibition of speed charges
  • Destruction of property

Both drivers and the viewers can be prosecuted for being at such an events. [1]

Sideshows in Northern and Southern Nevada

Street racing is not anything new in Reno, however Lt. Michael Browett with the Reno Police Department Traffic Section believes that these gatherings have evolved into something completely different. He states that since Spring 2022, these gatherings have become more brazen and have moved from primarily private property into more public spaces, including large intersections. Additionally, Reno police have noticed these events are being organized outside Reno and often involve people from other states.  [2]

On September 30th, thousands of people and hundreds of cars flocked to Northern Nevada parking lots and intersections to perform stunts. Lt. Browett stated that these people were coming from San Francisco, Portland and many other places throughout the West Coast, and police were tipped off by social media posts. The illegal event began late Friday night in a Walmart parking lot and later migrated to several intersection and industrial parks nearby. Dozens of people were arrested, fourteen cars were impounded, and thirty-three people were issued citations. No one was seriously injured, however some of the charges included hit and run causing injury, weapons possession and reckless driving.

Northern Nevada is not the only place seeing an increase in sideshows, as Clark County Police have had to deal with illegal street racing in the past several years; some have noted that this increase started during the shutdowns.    Other cities nationally have seen an influx including Phoenix, San Francisco and Chicago. Just last weekend, three people were killed and several seriously injured because of car crashes in Wildwood, New Jersey. Police advise that if you are a driver who comes across a Sideshow to leave the area and not intervene. Instead, call 911 and notify police of the location.

Considering the increase of these illegal Sideshows, Northern Nevada councilwoman Noami Duerr has proposed changes within the community including more police resources to crack down on this trend. She hopes these resources can include the use of different equipment, intelligence, and a greater number of people to help reduce these activities. She also hopes that a separate task force is created to deal with this issue specifically [3]. For the time being, Northern Nevada police have taken preventative measures including shutting down certain streets at night to prevent gatherings. For example, on Saturday October 1, Victorian Ave in Sparks, a popular sideshow location, was shut down from 6pm and did not reopen until the next morning. [4]

Who Can be Held Liable for Illegal Sideshows?

As mentioned above, participating in an illegal sideshow event can result in several traffic violations or citations. The drivers who participate in one of these events will often face criminal charges. In addition, Nevada has enacted laws that allows spectators to all face charges as well. Legally, a spectator is defined as anyone “viewing, observing, witnessing, and/or watching” such a sideshow event. Additionally, anyone who “aids in, participates in, assists in preparation for, or encourages others to partake in an illegal sideshow event” can also be held liable. Remember this when you repost a sideshow event on social media.

Consequences of the charges for sideshows can include prison sentences, fines, probation or parole requirements, impoundment of motor vehicles, as well as temporary suspension or permanent revocation of driver’s licenses. Misdemeanor charges may also be elevated to felonies if serious property damage occurs, serious bodily injury occurs, if an individual becomes deceased or if under the influence while operating a motor vehicle.




Image Credit: Mílton Jung

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