Flint, MI– The Flint City Council is working on a new ordinance to declare reckless driving a public nuisance, which officials say would allow for harsher punishments. 

Councilwoman Tonya Burns initiated the ordinance and told her colleagues during their council meeting on April 25 she did not want to see a child get hurt.

“Kids can’t ride in the street with their bikes now because of individuals that are lawless. … Our communities are for families, not for these lawless individuals who could care less, and have no regard for life,” Burns said. 

The proposal would add a section for “Reckless Driving” in Chapter 30 “Nuisances” of the Flint City Code of Ordinances. 

The resolution document defines “reckless driving” as “operating a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, including but not limited to the use of stunt driving techniques such as figure eights, sliding, drifting, and donuts.”

With the “nuisance” title, anyone caught reckless driving will be subject to “enjoinment and abatement as provided under state and local law.” 

The ordinance specifically includes language that the city attorney may take the issue to Genesee County Circuit Court, and may settle at minimum for an administrative fine of “no less than $900 and all accrued towing and storage charges.” 

Police Chief Terence Green told the council that the ordinance would allow for the impounding of violators’ vehicles. Currently, he said officers can typically only issue a citation. He said that only under certain circumstances can officers impound a vehicle. 

“Under this public nuisance, that allows us to forfeit that vehicle. Under the state’s reckless driving act, it does not,” Green said. 

City Attorney William Kim said state law does allow for the forfeiture of property idbut that there is “a great deal of ambiguity” in terms of what would be covered by that. Kim said that enacting this ordinance would resolve the ambiguity. 

“It makes it clear that the city considers this kind of behavior to be a public nuisance, which allows the city to take certain steps that are permitted under state law to address public nuisances,” Kim said. “Among those would be filing an action in the court to enjoin the public nuisance which can include the forfeiture of the vehicle itself.”

Councilman Eric Mays said he was opposed to taking violators’ vehicles away, and wanted to see this ordinance include “progressive punishment.” He suggested 30, then 60, then 90 days in jail before a vehicle is taken. 

“I’m not going to do a doughnut for 90 days. … The point is I’m going to go after the driver before I go after the car,” Mays said. 

Green disagreed, and many council members also said they felt serious punishment was needed to put an end to reckless driving in the city. 

“They don’t learn until you do something to them. … We have to start holding up community members or holding them responsible for their actions and it’s important because the issues have cost lives,” Burns said. 

Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer asked Green, and the police department, to “make some examples of people that are drag racing.”

 “Once we lay down the law and say drag racing, they are going to impound your vehicle, they’re going to sell it, they’re going to put you in jail and they’re going to fine the crap on you, until we set an example … they know they can get away with it,” Pfeiffer said. 

The council recently rejected a proposed ordinance about convenience stores over concerns about the police department’s ability to actually enforce the new law. As such, some council members asked Green how this proposed ordinance could be enforced. 

“We’re going to roll out our Hot Spot Policing initiatives in multiple locations without tipping them off,” Green said. “We’re going to use technology and enforcement teams. We’ve already laid out a plan to do that.”

He said that this ordinance would help the police be more aggressive and explained a common occurrence the department deals with. When an officer finds a car doing doughnuts or driving recklessly, he said, the officer will try to initiate a traffic stop but the driver will flee, sometimes reaching speeds as high as 100 mph.

“Based on our policy and procedure, that officer is required to terminate their pursuit,” he said. 

If, after the fact, the officer comes across the vehicle parked somewhere, this ordinance would allow the officers to confiscate the vehicle. Additionally, Green said more staffing on the police department would help catch more violators. 

While many council members voiced their support of a reckless driving ordinance, some said they wanted to continue to work on the proposal to make it stronger. 

One part of the ordinance council members wanted to change was a specification about the location of the reckless driving.

The proposed ordinance only references “reckless driving in a residential neighborhood,” and defines a residential neighborhood as “any streets that have a posted or unposted speed limit of 25 mph or less.” 

Councilwoman Judy Priestley said she wanted “in a residential neighborhood” taken out of the ordinance. 

“They could be doing this on Dort Highway. They could be doing this on Ballenger. … I’m totally in favor of this action, but I do want to see it throughout the city, not just residential neighborhoods,” she said. 

Burns said she would have no problem with the council making that change.

“If that’s the consensus of my colleagues … then let’s do it. Let’s do something,” Burns said. “I don’t want to just complain about the police department. I want to make sure we put something to action so we can get something done.”

The council voted 7-0 to move this ordinance to the next Legislative Committee meeting to make amendments. Councilwoman Eva Worthing and Mays were no longer in the meeting at the time of the vote.

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...