Area teens intent on barking their tires or slinging gravel on Big Spring streets could certainly find themselves in hot water with law enforcement. However, such a childish transgression will no longer merit a trip behind bars.
The Big Spring City Council approved a new ordinance Tuesday night that will hopefully address a problem presented several years ago when the state legislature made such exhibitions of acceleration a Class B misdemeanor.
“A few months back I spoke with City Attorney Linda Sjogren to see if she could find an alternative to give our officers another tool to correct errant driving behavior amongst some of our young drivers,” Big Spring Police Chief Lonnnie Smith told the council. “Years ago, when we were growing up, state law included measures for exhibition of acceleration. They would get a ticket and then go on about their business. A few years back, they changed that. If they get caught now they go to jail because (state law made it) a Class B misdemeanor. You have young people who now have arrest records for something that is normally a traffic (issue).”
The new ordinance, which would be added to Section 18-78 entitled Racing and Exhibition of Acceleration, would make it unlawful for any person to race or otherwise cause a motor vehicle to make a rapid start or acceleration on a roadway.
“I understand the concept the legislature was trying to address (when they changed the law),” Smith said. “In the metro areas, such as Houston and Dallas, there are young kids gathering, blocking off the streets and conducting races. That's the concerns the legislature was addressing when they changed the law a few years ago. However, I don't think they looked at all of the ramifications it would have on rural areas. This (new ordinance) will give our officers an alternative tool to correct the problem without making an arrest. The officers can cite the driver without placing them under arrest … and they don't have to spend the night in jail.”
Smith said the ordinance will give law enforcement officers the opportunity to be “community-minded” when they encounter teens attempting to show off on local roadways.
“A lot of these cases are simply kids who are spinning their tires or otherwise showing off; however, they aren't racing on the highway or other roads,” Smith said. “This will allow officers to address the problem without these 16- and 17-year-old kids ending up with an arrest record when it's really not necessary.”
District 5 Councilman Craig Olson offered concerns the new ordinance might be trumped by state mandates.
“As I understand it, state law says it is mandatory to make a standard arrest on the spot as the law is written now, as a Class B misdemeanor,” Olson said. “So, what you're asking is to possibly reduce it to a Class C misdemeanor, a citable offense and let them go on their way?”
Smith said the ordinance — which was passed by the council on a unanimous vote — will not create a conflict with state law.
“We're not in opposition with the state law. We're just making a city ordinance that goes along the same lines so we have something that's enforceable under city ordinance,” Smith said.
Also during Tuesday's meeting, the council:
• Approved final reading of a resolution authorizing the city to apply for a grant from the Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission and Regional Solid Waste Grants Program.
• Approved a joint election agreement with the Big Spring Independent School District for the upcoming municipal elections.
• Accepted Big Spring Economic Development Corporation board of directors minutes from the meeting held Nov. 20, 2012.