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Tiger Woods Was Driving Nearly Twice The Speed Limit When He Crashed, But Wasn’t Driving Recklessly, LASD Says

A tow truck recovers the vehicle driven by golfer Tiger Woods in Rancho Palos Verdes on Feb. 23, 2021, after a rollover crash. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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Tiger Woods was driving between 84 and 87 miles per hour on a curved stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard with a posted speed limit of 45 mph when he lost control of his car, struck the median and a sign, crossed into the opposite lanes, jumped the curb, hit a tree, went airborne and rolled before crashing down on the hillside.

That’s according to officials from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who on Wednesday revealed the results of their investigation into the Feb. 23 single-car collision in Rolling Hills Estates near Rancho Palos Verdes. Woods, 45, was seriously injured and underwent multiple surgeries on his legs.

Woods’ car had a data recorder — basically a black box — which helped investigators piece together how fast he was driving right before the crash, and the multiple points of impact.

This map graphic from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department shows the path and points of impact of Tiger Woods' crash on Hawthorne Boulevard on Feb. 23, 2021. (Courtesy LASD)
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In this case, Woods was driving dangerously fast — and speed and safe turns don’t mix. But because no one witnessed the crash, no one else was hurt and deputies did not find any evidence of impairment, Woods will not be charged or be given a speeding ticket.

In a media briefing livestreamed this morning, Sheriff Alex Villanueva addressed social media speculation that Woods received “preferential treatment” and wasn’t scrutinized by the sheriff's department the way most drivers would be.

“There [were] no signs of impairment. Our primary concern, obviously, at the scene of the collision was his safety, and this is where you have to switch gears and make sure the person can survive and receives the medical care they need … without the signs of impairment, we don't get to the point where we can actually author a search warrant and develop the probable cause to get.”

Here’s something to chew on: from a legal perspective, driving nearly double the posted speed limit is not, by itself, considered reckless driving. LASD Captain James Powers of the Lomita Sheriff’s Station explained it this way:
“You have to have multiple violations considered in conjunction with one another, like multiple unsafe lane changes, passing vehicles in an unsafe manner — kind of like road rage stuff — and that did not exist here. Therefore reckless driving was not appropriate.”

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy carries a broken "Welcome to Rolling Hills Estates" sign struck by Tiger Woods when he crashed in Rolling Hills Estates near Rancho Palos Verdes. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
The outcomes of most crash investigations are not released publicly, but given the celebrity status of the driver, the public got a rare glimpse into how crashes are investigated and how drivers are held accountable (or not). While some might look at this case and see preferential treatment, in reality, vehicle drivers broadly benefit from legal privilege not present for other road users.

Investigators do not automatically file search warrants for phone records or test drivers for drugs and alcohol. When a driver severely injures or kills someone and there’s no other witnesses or video of the crash, it’s often the driver’s word against no one else’s.

And the common use of “accident” by law enforcement and news media (uttered several times in today’s briefing) to describe crashes has a loaded history. The word was part of a campaign by early automakers to shift blame away from drivers and paint traffic injuries and deaths as unavoidable.

Most drivers don’t face felony charges over crashes — even when they injure or kill another person. That’s because of the high bar investigators and prosecutors use to establish negligence, which determines fault and accountability.

To learn more about crash investigations, driver accountability, speeding and how we talk about traffic violence, explore my reporting here:

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