CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago City Council has given the green light on a plan to crack down on drag racing and other dangerous driving on city streets.
At the same time, it refused to roll back the slower speed limits for speed camera tickets.
The drag racing ordinance sailed through the council Wednesday. It puts dangerous drivers on notice that if they are caught, their vehicle can be impounded.
The ordinance was tweaked to give owners the opportunity to provide proof that police mistakenly identified their vehicle or that it was stolen, but city leaders hope the new impoundment tool will send a message and curtail dangerous driving.
For weeks now, residents have been dealing with blocked streets and people drag racing or drifting in their cars.
Early Sunday morning, a West Loop intersection was shut down as a series of vehicles did donuts, known as drifting, right in the middle of the intersection, putting those who gathered to watch in danger if the drivers has lost control.
It's this kind of activity, along with drag racing in parking garages and elsewhere, which the new ordinance would crack down on.
The ordinance, championed by downtown 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly, would empower police to impound vehicles used in such stunts - whether or not the vehicle's owner is present.
"This isn't about finding people and taking their cars from them, it's about safety," said Ald. Reilly. "So our hope is that with some aggressive enforcement on the front end, we can make some high profile examples of the folks who are organizing this and doing this on a regular basis.
Prior to the final vote, Reilly noted daredevil stunt driving "skyrocketed during the pandemic." While most people were "stuck at home, these people were taking advantage of the wide-open roadway and surface parking lots" to showboat.
"Increasingly, what we're seeing is the people who are organizing these meetups are not Chicago residents. There are people outside of the city and many of the cars that come from outside of the city, and, unfortunately, our thoroughfares are now becoming sports venues for non-residents to wreak havoc in our streets," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
Residents have said they are fed up.
"I can't tell you the number of times I've been woken up, 1:30, 2, 2:30 in the morning, and sometimes it goes on for almost two hours," Pat Glatz said.
Video from drifting cars in the West Loop recently surfaced.
"It's very, very dangerous," 18th Ward Alderman Derrick Curtis said. "We're not only trying to protect the lives of our constituents, but we're trying to protect your life and your audience's lives. So I'm asking and pleading that you find a new hobby."
The unanimous vote follows yet another harrowing, dangerous and deafening incident that drew hundreds of spectators to Clinton and Monroe streets on the Near West Side early Sunday. The noisy gathering kept area residents awake for hours. Responding officers had fireworks thrown at them, and their vehicles were kicked.
That incident was eerily similar to what happened in May on Lower Wacker Drive at Columbus Drive, when a driver did donuts and figure-eight stunts around spectators surrounded by a circle of burning gasoline.
Reilly said CPD must find a way to stop the daredevils before somebody gets killed.
"I can tell you that when someone has to pay $5,000 to get their car at the pound, that should make an impression," he said.
Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) has complained Mayor Lori Lightfoot's decision to give NASCAR the green flag to hold three straight years of stock-car races through downtown Chicago streets would "egg on" participants in a sub-culture that thrives on becoming celebrities by posting daredevil stunts on social media.
Lightfoot has rejected what she called the "apples vs. oranges" comparison.
The crackdown measure sailed through council, but another one that would have repealed the speed camera ordinance that tickets drivers doing between 6 and 10 miles per hour over the limit, failed. There was a push to return it to the debate, focusing on safety versus revenue. However, the vote was 26-18.
Meanwhile, several city council members are pushing a new set of ordinances to address police officer wellness. Under the proposals, officers could refuse to have days off canceled or be assigned excessive overtime, except during major events and emergencies.
"We cannot continue with regular days off canceled. We cannot continue with 12-hour shifts," said 19th Ward Alderman Matt O'Shea.
The push comes after three Chicago police officers die by suicide within just weeks.
Ryan Clancy lost his police officer sister to suicide earlier this month.
"Why do these officers need days off? To breathe, to think, to sleep, to process the dramatic scenes that they are witnessing, to spend time with their families to feel like human beings, to feel like they matter," Clancy said.
The mayor, who expressed concern for the difficult job officers have to do, said she will not support it. She said it would not be appropriate for the city council to be setting personnel rules and policies.
The council also passed a new ethics ordinance, as well as another one to encourage more affordable housing around CTA stations.
Wednesday's Council meeting was the last before the annual August recess.
The Sun-Times Media Report contributed to this post