What is a street takeover and how can you protect yourself
A street takeover, which is sometimes called a sideshow, is when a group of people decide to meet at an intersection or large parking lot to showcase their cars and driving abilities by drifting. Mostly it looks like what I call cutting donuts, but the cool kids call it drifting.
Think of a street takeover as a flash mob with cars.
In a matter of minutes, an intersection can be taken over by cars and crowds. We’re talking about maybe a dozen cars and 150 or more people. It just depends. While street takeovers do follow a pattern, they are all unique. And yes, this is illegal for many reasons.
How do Street Takeovers Start?
The process of starting a sideshow is grassroots. People who want to start the show, use social media and texting to get the word out about a specific location, time, and who is going to be there. The motive for starting an event like this varies from promoting another event to boredom. It really runs the spectrum.
These events usually occur at night in an urban location, where not much is going on. But in recent months, more and more street takeovers are happening during the day and in a significant amount of traffic.
When a location is picked, spectator’s cars will block off the intersection and the people will fill in around the open space. Then the cars participating in the event make their way to the middle. In the intersection, in an unorganized manner, cars and drivers will be featured to show off what they can do.
While most people watch from the safety of the sidewalk, there are a few people who choose to run to the center of the intersection to get the best camera angle for TikTok. As you might surmise, this can be quite dangerous for the people involved.
The Dangers of a Street Takeover
Street takeovers have several layers to them. First, there is the danger of the cars. Then there is the dynamic threat of a crowd. And lastly, there’s the escape from law enforcement which can escalate to a car chase or a fatal accident
The first danger is that the drivers who are showcasing their abilities are not professional drivers. While some are better than others, most of them are average and have never done driver training or stunt driving before. Oh and drugs and alcohol can be involved.
This can lead to cars hitting other cars, power poles, and onlookers. In some cases, I’ve seen cars catch fire and of course, it’s hard for the fire department to respond because of the crowds.
One of the biggest threats people face is getting hit by a car. Some people will grab their cell phones and go out into the intersection to try and get as close to the cars as possible. As a cameraman for more than 20 years, I get the allure of risking it to get the shot. I almost got gored by a bull once at a rodeo because I got too close to a bull in a chute.
But when you think about the driver of the show car, he can barely tell where he is in the intersection and keep his car under control. Then some guy with his phone runs out and the driver hits him and never knew he was there. When people are hit, it looks like they’re getting bucked off a bull, they go flying and the cars are damaged pretty badly. Usually, this prompts the driver to flee.
Crowd Dynamics of a Street Takeover
The more dangerous dynamic in my opinion is the crowd. The more people there are in a crowd, the dumber everyone gets. This is part of collective behavior when an unstructured group of people respond to an event. The takeover doesn’t have hard and fast rules for how people need to act, so when something inevitably goes wrong, the crowd will respond to that.
The crowd can develop into a mob and then evolve into a riot depending on what happens. So a crowd that came to see a show, may turn to looting. Also, shootouts between subgroups of the crowd cannot be ruled out either. So the atmospherics of a street takeover are very important to track as they can indicate when things might go sideways.
Then there is the bystander effect when someone does get hurt, the more people there are, the less likely people will move to do something about it. So if you get hurt at one of these events, you’re most likely going to be on your own unless your friends get you.
We could really talk a lot about the crowd aspect of these events in much greater detail with people who are smarter than me, but this is just a starting point for a better understanding.
Why do People Go to a Street Takeover?
But before we move on, let’s answer a question you might have: Why go to a street takeover? I think that most people go to a street takeover to have a good time and see what happens. The intent of a takeover is not to be violent or harmful. So people go thinking that it’s safe because no one really wants to hurt anyone, injury and death are unintended consequences when things go wrong.
Police Response to a Sideshow
Usually, sideshows end either when someone wrecks, gets seriously hurt, or the cops show up. Depending on where you live, the police may not break up a takeover. Some precincts may think that it’s too dangerous to break them up, especially when a mob mentality has been reached. Only recently have some states moved to outlaw these events.
In Atlanta back in August, a Georga State Trooper made headlines by taking down a driver of an F-150 who was doing donuts in an intersection of Northside Drive as part of a takeover. When the trooper arrived the F-150 tried to escape and drove into a crowd of onlookers where he hit three people. The trooper executed a pit maneuver, jumped on the hood of his car, and pulled the F-150 driver out through the window to arrest him on the hood of his Charger.
I say this to let you know that police response is going to vary from state to state, so if you see a takeover developing, it’s best to get away.
What Are The Warning Signs of a Street Takeover?
Is it possible to see the warning signs of a street takeover? If you like to monitor your local social media, it’s possible to see posts about takeovers before they happen. You can use Open-Source Intelligence to spot these things as they develop. You can also follow your local news to see the hot spots for these events and generally know where to avoid them if possible. Sometimes you can’t avoid them, I get that.
Another clue that things are developing is the sudden presence of a mass group of unorganized people at an intersection or parking lot. No matter what happens next, a large crown like that swarming an area is your cue to leave.
If you can’t get out, then move to a safe place and don’t attract any attention to yourself. Wait it out until you can leave. A lot of the same strategies that you used to avoid riots during 2020 will help you here. And of course, a sudden gathering of loud cars that don’t seem to have a purpose is an indicator that a takeover may be in the works.
Spotting the Start of a Street Takeover
Over the summer I went to a shoe store with my family. This particular side of town has been in decline over the past 20 years, which is sad because I used to live and work in this area. But people stopped putting money into keeping the properties up so illegal activity increased.
Across from the shoe store is a mall that has been dying for years and in the parking lot was a group of 15 to 20 men and a nice collection of cars. There were Dodges, BMWs, and Chevys - all with a lot of aftermarket parts and wraps on them.
In that parking lot and in the shoestore parking lot were tire marks where you could clearly see that people had been drifting and cutting donuts. Also, this area is near two major interstates.
So all of these clues indicate that a street takeover may be happening soon.
I was not worried that the drivers were intent on harming us, but I knew that we could be hurt if we stuck around too long. So I hurried us through our shopping while keeping an eye on the crowd and we left. Afterward, I fully explained to my wife and son what I had seen, what a takeover was, and the potential threat that could have happened.
As street takeovers grow in popularity, we’re going to see more and more videos of people getting hurt. Right now they seem to be happening in large cities, but don’t rule out a bunch of kids trying to start one near your home.