They’ve become a familiar sight and sound to many San Franciscans: Sideshows and other car stunts that block intersections, damage streets and—in worst-case scenarios—cause serious injuries.
At a Board of Supervisors hearing on Thursday, a group of city officials detailed the impact on city residents and introduced plans to deter the risky antics in San Francisco neighborhoods.
“I believe the more we coordinate, suppress and intervene…the more people get word that San Francisco isn’t the place to do this type of activity,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who convened a hearing with the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) to discuss sideshows and stunt driving.
The events are largely coordinated over social media, including “online gaming forums,” said SFPD Commander Daniel Perea. The most frequent stunt driving activity takes place in the southeastern part of San Francisco, with hotspots in the Mission, Bayview and Ingleside districts, though residents report incidents in many corners of the city.
“They’re in areas that have ready access to interstate highways,” said Perea. “The majority of these folks that we’ve encountered, whose vehicles we’ve seized or who have been cited, have been from counties like Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Sonoma, Solano, Stanislaus and Sacramento.”
Last year, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance allowing vehicles involved in stunt driving to be impounded for up to 30 days. In tandem, SFPD established a stunt driving response unit intended to deter the practice.
Between October 2020 and June 2021, that unit seized 31 vehicles and issued 225 warnings to vehicles identified at stunt driving events. Only one of the individuals who received citations or vehicle impounds was from San Francisco, according to Perea.
Meanwhile, SFMTA has begun installing small speed bumps and other traffic deterrents in an effort to prevent sideshows in certain hotspots. The agency is also tasked with cleanup from sideshows and stunts that damage intersections, said Ricardo Olea, a traffic engineer at SFMTA.
“On the MTA side, the cost to repaint a crosswalk is between $3,000 and $5,000 per intersection,” he said. “There is an opportunity cost as well…[SFMTA staff] are basically having to go out repeatedly to repaint crosswalks.”
Likewise, a representative at DPW reported that between staff time and materials, costs of repair from a sideshow that damages city property run at least $2,800.
“That is cost, and again, that’s money SFMTA or DPW can be putting into Vision Zero or other traffic calming,” added Safai. In 2014, San Francisco adopted Vision Zero, which has a policy goal of eliminating fatal traffic incidents by 2024.
In June, San Jose passed an ordinance making it a crime to promote sideshows on social media. Under that law, violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and face fines of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
Safai said that San Jose’s ordinance was likely too broad to be applicable in San Francisco, but that the Board of Supervisors will monitor sideshow activity over the next six to nine months to see if the new deterrent measures have any effect.
“Unfortunately, this is something we have to come at with the angle that it can’t be tolerated,” he said.