The city of Sandy Springs has joined Atlanta, Brookhaven and other municipalities in beefing up penalties on street racing. The ordinance includes a car-impounding provision that Atlanta officials have acknowledged conflicts with state law and that legislation would be required to legalize.

Mirroring an ordinance approved by the Atlanta City Council last year, the new Sandy Springs law imposes state-maximum penalties of a $1,000 fine and jail time of up to six months for drivers, organizers and other street racing participants who are convicted in municipal court. And like the Atlanta ordinance, the Sandy Springs law calls for the impounding of street-racing vehicles for up to 30 days. 

But Atlanta city attorneys told their City Council at the time that the maximum period allowed by state law is always less than 30 days and cannot legally continue through the court process. Impounding can only be done for immediate safety reasons, such as the arrest of the driver, and the vehicle can be picked up at any time by any legally authorized driver, the attorneys said. Atlanta councilmembers quietly added a qualification to the impounding clause saying it could be up to the maximum under state law, essentially retaining the appearance of a threat when in fact the penalty cannot be imposed.

Atlanta officials later acknowledged that the 30-day impounding is not legal and began efforts to legalize it through state legislation.

The Atlanta ordinance caused widespread confusion, including among police officials. Sandy Springs is having the same issue. Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone said at the Feb. 16 council meeting where the local ordinance was approved that a key purpose was to impound vehicles as a deterrent. Asked later why Sandy Springs adopted language that Atlanta acknowledged is in conflict with state law, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun referred to existing laws that allow for property like cars to be confiscated as evidence of a crime. But confiscation of evidence is a different legal subject than impounding and relates to investigation, not punishment.

Brookhaven also copied Atlanta’s ordinance last year with the same impounding provision.

At least two bills under consideration in the Georgia General Assembly would allow for the special impounding or seizure of the vehicles of people accused in street racing. Gov. Brain Kemp introduced HB 534 in the House of Representatives with sponsoring legislators on Feb. 18. The bill stiffens penalties for street racing, making a third offense a felony. A third offense also would lead to forfeiture of the vehicle used for street racing.

Metro Atlanta has experienced increased instances of illegal street racing, usually at night. Sandy Springs hasn’t matched that level of street racing, but it has increased in the city.

DeSimone said the city has only had three street racing cases, but they want to get ahead of the problem.

He said one large incident happened Jan. 22 at Whole Foods at 5930 Roswell Road.

“We had over 100 vehicles doing donuts and laying drags within the parking lot,” said Sgt. Salvador Ortega, Sandy Springs Police Department spokesperson. As officers arrived all the vehicles fled. A few arrests were made and some vehicles were impounded.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.