Maryland police, car enthusiasts report increases in ‘exhibition driving’ or street ‘takeovers’ as lawmakers attempt to clamp down

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

A car’s motor revved and its wheels screeched, as it spun in a circle late one recent Friday night at President and Pratt streets on the edge of downtown Baltimore, as a crowd watched the driver perform a doughnut and traffic at the busy intersection gridlocked.

Baltimore Police responded to break up one of the latest “street takeovers” or exhibition driving events, where amateur drivers abruptly block a public intersection to perform stunts, often putting themselves, other drivers and onlookers at risk, officials say.


According to city police union leaders, officers arrived at the scene to find an ambulance trying to get through the intersection with activated lights and sirens.

“After four light cycles, BPD entered the intersection and their vehicle was hit with bottles,” union leaders wrote in a tweet.


The drivers fled.

Similar racing and stunt events have been reported by law enforcement across the state and country. In California, police created a “Street Racing Enforcement Operation” after such events caused crashes and injuries. In Detroit last weekend, police seized a dozen cars and arrested people for street racing.

In the waning days of the General Assembly session, several lawmakers, law enforcement officials and community leaders said they have seen more events across the state and discussed a bill that would increase the penalties for those caught street racing and performing tricks, including authorizing law enforcement to impound vehicles, doubling fines, and issuing additional points to drivers’ licenses.

“We have seen an alarming increase in the incidents of street racing and exhibition driving across our state,” said Anne Arundel County Police Lt. Mike Shier, who testified in support of the bill Tuesday. “These events consist of hundreds of cars gathering on public streets and parking lots throwing their cars around like kids playing with Hot Wheels toys. The danger of their actions cannot be overstated.”

But the fate of bills that would increase penalties statewide is unclear with the last day of the session looming Monday.

Some legislators, like Del. Marlon D. Amprey, a Democrat who represents Baltimore, expressed concern about over-enforcement in some minority neighborhoods. And a senator worried that provisions in the original bill that increased fines for those who modify an exhaust system or “noise abatement device” would allow police to stop any noisy vehicles not necessarily connected with exhibition driving.

As of Thursday morning, the bill “still has a ways to go,” said its sponsor, Sen. Pamela Beidle, a Democrat who represents Anne Arundel County. The bill had last-minute amendments, and needed to be voted out of committee, out of the House of Delegates, and come back to the Senate before Monday, she said.

Proponents of stricter penalties said they are needed to deter the often-elusive drivers and participants, some of whom they say come to Maryland from neighboring states because penalties are less severe.


In Virginia, individuals who engage in such behavior can face a misdemeanor reckless driving charge that could result in up to a year in jail, said C.J. Nucciarone, an attorney based in Manassas, who specializes in criminal traffic and DUI cases.

In Maryland, a reckless driving conviction will result in a fine, not jail time.

“A lot of these reckless driving codes are written broadly” in Virginia. Nothing that criminalizes doughnuts,” Nucciarone said. “But the broad language allows the police to write tickets for all of these people.”

The threat of any jail time is the “big hammer sitting there,” he said.

Additionally, in Virginia, those who are convicted of a racing charge will automatically lose their license for a minimum of six months, potentially up to two years.

The Maryland State Police said the proposed legislation would allow law enforcement to impound and tow vehicles used by participants, whereas now, police can only issue citations.


“This legislation will add another tool for law enforcement and local government to ensure the safety of all persons within the State,” the agency said in a statement.

The legislative hearing Tuesday came after numerous street takeover events were reported in Baltimore and other places.

Multiple events in Ocean City, the largest known as the “H2oi” rally, have drawn hundreds of spectators in recent years, prompting large-scale police response. In 2020, more than 100 people were arrested during the event; in 2019, police said the driver of a BMW lost control during a burnout and struck an adult and a child.

Baltimore Police said the city has seen a large increase in such exhibition driving events that require a large police response, including multiple patrol units and the department’s helicopter, as well as additional resources to investigate the individuals involved by tracking vehicles and social media. Department policy prohibits officers from chasing fleeing vehicles.

Baltimore Police Col. Kevin Jones, chief of patrol, called the events “a resource drain on our agency.”


Among the recent incidents in the city, at the busy intersection of Northern Parkway and Falls Road late in the evening March 31, a crowd of about 100 people watched as about four cars did doughnuts, a maneuver in which the driver causes the rear wheels of the car to intentionally skid and the car to spin in a circle. The crowd blocked off the thoroughfare to traffic, including emergency vehicles.

About three of four responding officers were called to the intersection but were unable to get through the traffic, said a man who watched from his apartment at the Falls at Roland Park complex. The witness didn’t want to give his name, citing safety concerns. He told The Baltimore Sun in an interview that he watched for five to 10 minutes as the cars sped around the intersection, and called police.

“Unfortunately, the police weren’t equipped to handle it,” he said. “They were not going to be able to break that up” with just a handful of officers.

Eventually, as police finally neared the intersection, the crowd dispersed with the cars that had been speeding on Falls Road.

“It was incredibly dangerous,” he said.

Baltimore City Councilman Mark Conway, who represents North Baltimore, and who heads the City Council’s public safety committee, said he has fielded calls from constituents about a street takeover in his district.


“We’re seeing it more often, and into the warmer months, I don’t think it will happen less often,” Conway said.

He said the issue is similar to the dirt bike riders who have been known to speed and do dangerous tricks on city streets.

“You can’t chase folks. It’s very difficult to enforce,” Conway said. “We got to be smart about it. This is a very difficult thing to address.”

Last October, city police were called to Key Highway and Lawrence Street in South Baltimore as drivers performed doughnuts and burnouts and spectators looked on.

Officers were dispatched to the area for “several vehicle disturbance calls,” police spokesman Det. Vernon Davis said at the time. “When officers arrived at the location, all vehicles were gone.”

Several days earlier, on Oct. 3, police were called to Dundalk and Holabird avenues for an event in Southeast Baltimore. But officers arrived after everyone had left, Davis said.


Ben Anderson, who has worked in operations for JE Import Performance Inc., an auto shop on Moravia Road that specializes in performance, said he has heard about more street events that have occurred in the city and nearby counties recently.

“We see it all the time. One employee lives in the Dundalk area, where they do the exhibition meetups, and cause mass damage,” he said. “It’s pretty embarrassing to the car culture. ... You have people who are trying to do it in exhibition manner. They don’t care about destruction of property. They’re hurting people.

“These are idiots driving.”

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

Anderson said the events are becoming more common as people see them posted to social media, and they’re getting away with it as those involved have proved elusive to law enforcement, taking advantage of rules about not pursuing speeding vehicles.

“People are getting away with this stuff,” he said.

Xavier Williams, project manager at the Rim Source Motorsports on Belair Road in Northeast Baltimore, said the car culture varies around the city but the individuals doing the exhibition driving are amateurs.


“A lot of those guys are attention seekers,” he said. “A lot of guys who take the sport seriously here are different pockets in the car scene.”

Most customers at his shop take their cars to shows to show them off, he said.

“My tires are $800 apiece,” Williams said. “The last thing I want to do is burn them out in the street.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Alex Mann contributed to this article.