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While America’s coronavirus pandemic has disrupted routine car traffic by reducing daily commutes and travel to leisure activities, authorities across the US said unauthorized street racers have taken advantage of these newly quiet roadways – and that these competitive motorists have killed several unsuspecting drivers.
Illegal street racing has reportedly surged ever since Covid-19 hit the US in earnest last spring, with officials reporting increases in states such as Georgia, New York, New Mexico and Oregon, among others, officials said.
Experts have also pointed to ongoing cultural interest in street racing, and the fact that participants or would-be racers have more time on their hands to work on their cars.
These racers block roadways – ranging from local roads to major interstates – to evade police intervention. They might engage in drag racing or perform stunts, recording their risky antics on videos that go viral on social media.
They might travel in packs, and their vehicles range from old, souped-up cars to luxury vehicles, authorities say.
Sports psychologist Tami Eggleston, who partakes in legal drag racing, said: “With Covid, when we were separated from people, I think people sort of bonded in their interest groups … so that need to want to socialize and be around other people brought the racers out.”
Deaths and quality-of-life concerns have been widely reported – sometimes, parties related to illegal street racing have involved gun-brandishing participants, as well as a trail of refuse, such as beer cans and take-out containers, as well as excessive noise.
Jaye Sanford, 52, was killed on 21 November while driving in the Atlanta region – and police said the culprit was a driver who was drag-racing with another individual when Sanford was hit head-on.
A 28-year-old woman in Phoenix, Arizona, died on 2 May after an alleged street racer cracked into her car. And a motorcyclist died in Portland, Oregon, in April from an alleged racing-related accident.
Non-fatal incidents abound. On New Year’s Eve in Jackson, Mississippi, some motorists blocked highway traffic for an hour while performing stunts such as donuts.
New York City, which has notoriously busy roadways, saw in excess of 1,000 drag-racing complaints in a six-month period during 2020, marking an almost five-fold surge compared to the same timeframe of 2019, the authorities reported.
Some states and localities have passed laws to combat street racing amid the apparent uptick. In Georgia, governor Brian Kemp signed a bill named for Sanford that mandates a minimum of 10 days in jail for “all” drag-racing convictions.
Drivers who are convicted of drag racing three times within a five-year period must forfeit their vehicles.
“This illegal activity is very dangerous … Our goal is simple: to protect every family in every community,” Kemp remarked during the bill-signing ceremony.
The Mississippi governor, Tate Reeves, signed legislation into law this March that authorizes state troopers to respond to incidents in municipalities.
Before, they were barred from responding to incidents in cities with more than 15,000 residents.
Politicians in New York have also taken steps to combat street racing; state senator Brad Hoylman has introduced a bill that would permit New York City’s speed-detecting cameras to run overnight as well as on weekends in areas notorious for street racing. The state senate’s transportation committee has unanimously approved this legislation, meaning it is poised for a floor vote.
“Illegal street racing puts lives at risk and keeps us up at night,” Hoylman recently said. “While there’s been less traffic during the pandemic, some drivers have used this as an opportunity to treat our streets like a Nascar speedway.”
In December, the Dallas Morning News reported that city police recorded almost twice as many calls involving speed racing and similar activity – 8,441 in 2020, up from 4,867 in 2019.
Some southern California law enforcement officials have detected an increase in “street takeovers” since Covid-19 hit, the Mercury News in San Jose reported in December.
“Part of it is just what’s going on with the times, with Covid and lockdown,” Los Angeles police sergeant Mark Guardado, who supervises the San Fernando Valley bureau’s street racing task force, told the newspaper.
“They’re antsy and bored. I think that has a lot to do with it. Obviously, the weekends are busier, but with no one working and with school closed, they have the time.”
In New Mexico, Albuquerque’s mayor, Tim Keller, said there has been an increase in complaints over street racing.
“We can actually hear the street racing problem from our houses,” he said, according to local channel KOAT.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: US sees surge in deadly street racing amid pandemic | US news