Sideshows Pose Danger To Bicyclists, Pedestrians and Motorists

Automotive sideshows are once again in the news as the northbound lanes of Interstate 880 near the Oakland Coliseum were taken over for a short period of time this past Saturday afternoon by drivers doing doughnuts and other sideshow stunts, as reported in an Inside Bay Area article. While no one was injured in that episode, sideshow stunts quite often seriously injure or kill innocent bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

As a lawyer who represents injured bicyclists, I recently represented a San Francisco bicyclist who was injured while bicycling on McAllister Street when a motorist put on a one-man automotive sideshow consisting of the performance of automotive stunts including “burnouts”. Burnouts are where the driver floors the accelerator while at the same time pressing on the brakes, the wheels spin at a high rate, causing a large amount of friction and smoke, with the car remaining relatively stationary until the driver “pops” the car into motion at which time the car speeds away, uncontrollably unless the driver is a professional driver. The driver in my client’s case lost control of the car, hitting my client head-on as he was bicycling home from his girlfriend’s house. The reckless conduct of the motorist constituted grounds for recovery of punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages, and the case was amicably settled in a short period of time.

Reports of deaths and extreme injuries from sideshows abound. As one of many examples, three people in East Oakland were killed and three injured by an episode of sideshow reckless driving: The car veered toward oncoming traffic, slammed into a parked car, and overturned on the sidewalk, hitting a pedestrian. (As reported in an SF Gate article by Chronicle staff writer Carolyn Jones on 10/18/09.) Such stunts also frequently spawn violence immediately following the stunt. (See, e.g., as reported at SF Gate by Chronicle staff writer Jaxon Van Derbeken on 4/13/08.)

6/1/13 Update: A teenage girl is on life support after being shot at an Oakland sideshow event. (see

Such reckless driving may be punishable as a misdemeanor crime by imprisonment and fines. (See, e.g., Cal. Vehicle Code Section 23103.)

In 2007, the California Assembly, in recognition of the extreme danger to the public posed by sideshow conduct, voted 74-0 to revive California’s sideshow car seizure law that allows police officers to impound any car engaged in reckless driving, including those merely accused of spinning a tire. (See Cal. Vehicle Code 23109.2; 9/4/07 article at