California lifts ban on cruising in low-rider cars

Owners of low-riders have been banned from “cruising” in most Californian cities since as early as the 1980s, but soon they’ll be able to drive their classic cars low and slow on public roads once more.

Low-riding, or the practice of modifying a classic car by dropping its suspension and sometimes adding hydraulics, has been part of Californian car culture since the 1940s.

The state is also widely considered the birthplace of cruising, or driving these modified cars slowly in groups, sometimes so low to the road that they drag and create a shower of sparks.

The subculture was embraced by California’s Hispanic and Black communities, but in the 1980s and ‘90s, it became associated with gang violence.

A series of bans were instated in several major cities, which opponents claimed were racially motivated.

Sometimes, cruising was simply defined as driving multiple times past the same spot within a set time period, making the bans difficult to enforce.

“They were stereotyping low-riders,” Alejandro Vega, a Californian custom car builder based, told the New York Times after the bill to lift the bans passed.

“You could have passed 20 times in a regular car — they will never stop you.”

“We’re not gangsters, we’re not looking for trouble,” René Castellon, president of the Elegants Los Angeles Car Club, also told the publication.

But from January 1, 2024, bans on cruising will be lifted in all Californian cities.

The bill, which was signed into law by California governor Gavin Newsom last month, will also allow low-riders to have parts that extend from the bodywork to below the bottom of the rims, such as “kerb feelers”.

Vallerrie Martinez, a car builder and welder from LA, said she had been issued at least five tickets while low-riding and signed a petition in support of the bill.

“We can defend ourselves with the law now a little bit,” she said.

In Australia, hydraulic suspension systems such as those used in low-riders, as well as the more modern airbag substitutes, are legal as long as they are installed by an approved mechanic. The vehicle must still adhere to the minimum height limit of 10cm from the road at its lowest point.

Originally published as California lifts ban on cruising in low-rider cars