Sideshow crackdown could lead to tougher penalties in San Francisco

Stricter laws and bigger penalties are in the works to stop sideshows and stunt driving in San Francisco.

Sideshows have dramatically increased across the state since the start of the pandemic, however, many cities have seen a fewer number of the illegal shows far this year, records show.

In San Francisco, there have been 33 stunt driving reports, compared to 65 at this time last year, police said.

Still, police say they’re loud, dangerous and destructive, sometimes attracting crowds of hundreds.

"The biggest priority is life safety and that’s what we really have to balance," San Francisco Police Sgt. Adam Lobsinger said.

But there have been complaints and criticism from residents, accusing police and the city of not doing enough to stop stunt driving.

"There’s nothing being done to prevent it," San Francisco resident Ray Vera said. "I would like them to be more proactive on patrolling and preventing rather than trying to deal with the aftermath."

San Francisco police said its approach is to prevent escalation since some participants may be armed with weapons.

And Department policy doesn’t allow officers to engage in high-speed chases.

Instead, police say the objective is to stop the activity, scatter the crowd -- and then investigate.  

Just weeks ago, hundreds attended a sideshow at Harrison and Main streets, where one person was struck by a car. Police were outnumbered and no initial arrests were made.

"These cases span over weeks, months," Lobsinger said. "But we eventually make arrests and make vehicle seizures."

Data shows stunt driving disproportionally plays out in District 6, right near the Bay Bridge highway ramps.

Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who represents the area, has proposed a series of strategies aimed at deterring these illegal events.

SEE ALSO: Speed bumps installed to stop sideshows in San Francisco

"It shouldn’t be easier to get away with a stunt driving event in San Francisco than South San Francisco," he said. "We do seize cars and we do issue citations. We just need to be doing more of it."

Dorsey is proposing tougher penalties at those involved in sideshows by increasing the time cars are impounded from 14 days to 30 days for a first offense.

Additionally, he’s pushing to prevent those cars from being re-registered if there are outstanding fines associated with stunt driving violations.

Last year, state lawmakers approved AB 3, which suspends drivers licenses for sideshow participants up to six months, but it’s not set to be implemented until July 1, 2025.

Dorsey wants the law to be implemented sooner, to create a level playing field across the state.

"I want to make sure San Francisco is not the softest target in the Bay Area for this kind of lawlessness," he said. "I want to makes sure we’re doing everything we can to send a message that we’re not going to tolerate this kind of stuff."

The city has already made changes at some intersections to curb stunt driving, including specialized speed bumps and other traffic control devices to prevent donuts or other stunts.

Dorsey is proposing the city assess costs to taxpayers for enforcement, cleanup and repairs because of sideshows.

San Francisco is currently surveying strategies of other cities – including surveillance to investigate and deter sideshows.

"What we can do is make sure we’re capturing the information of the cars that are participating in it," Dorsey said. "And then make sure we’re holding them accountable by seizing the cars of people who are engaging in this."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU