A New Sport Nobody Wants: Illegal Street Racing
4 Nov, 2021By: Michael Popke
The success of Fast & Furious 9 — which opened in June in the United States and is the first Hollywood movie to gross more than $700 million since March of 2020 — appears to be fueling a disturbing trend that started last year and picked up speed in 2021: illegal street racing. The activity often can turn fatal not only for motorists but also for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.
Things have gotten so bad that government officials are making serious crackdowns. California Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier in October signed a law that will suspend the driver’s license of any convicted illegal street racer for six months. Although the new law won’t take effect until 2025, its author, Assemblyman Vince Fong, a Republican from Bakersfield, said it will have an immediate impact.
“This law helps make our communities safer by giving law enforcement another tool to curb reckless sideshows,” Fong tweeted, according to The Sacramento Bee. “We’re sending a message that this is dangerous activity that is no longer acceptable.”
FOX 5 TV in San Diego recently reported that the California Highway Patrol responded to more than 25,000 calls involving illegal street racing in 2020. That’s 3,500 more compared to the previous year.
Other states and municipalities around the country are taking action, too — not only against illegal street racers but also so-called spectators. Here’s just a small sampling:
- Texas has increased its penalty for convicted racers to include a fine of up to $4,000 and one year in jail, as well as possible vehicle confiscation. AAA Texas (an affiliate of the American Automobile Association) calls illegal street racing “speeding on steroids”and noted that Texas Department of Public Safety troopers issued 451 citations and warnings for violations related to street racing in 2020. This year, multiple fatalities have been reported in several Texas cities as a result of the activity. What’s more, the Texas Department of Transportation reported more than 1,200 fatal crashes related to speeding statewide in 2020, an increase of more than 15% from the year before.
- Police in Portland, Ore., arrested more than a dozen people in a single “speed racing mission” in September. They also towed eight cars and seized two guns. The crackdown came in the wake of the Portland City Council passing an ordinance that bans the activity and carries a $500 fine. They also might have their vehicle towed and serve time behind bars. “We believe that this ordinance gives us a really important tool to deal with not only the people engaged with the dangerous driving activity, but the people who are legitimately facilitating the event,” then-Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said during a city council meeting in August. “That doesn’t mean just everybody who happens to be standing around, but the people who are helping to shut down the roads and organize these events, if you will.”
- Lawmakers in Wichita, Kan., have gone so far as to create an ordinance that makes it illegal to be part of a gathering that watches street racing or drivers engaging in other illegal activities such as donuts, burnouts and wheelies. Individuals who are “unintentional witnesses or passersby to events” are exempt from the ordinance. Violators are subject to at least a $250 fine. The ordinance also increased existing penalties for illegal street racers to include mandatory higher fines and monitored house arrests.
This grassroots-powered spectator sport has been propelled by social media. “Instagram accounts, YouTube channels and other forms of social media have acted as a kind of modern-day bullhorn for Los Angeles’ street-racing community in recent years, according to law enforcement officials and members of the racing community,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “A big following on social media means a race organizer can draw large crowds to an illegal sideshow or underground race. Instagram Stories, which disappear after 24 hours, has become the marketing tool of choice for many.”
“With COVID, when we were separated from people, I think people sort of bonded in their interest groups,” sports psychologist Tami Eggleston, who also is the provost of McKendree University in suburban St. Louis, told the Associated Press earlier this year. “So that need to want to socialize and be around other people brought the racers out.”
Some drivers, in turn, believe that need apparently gives them “an opportunity to treat our streets like a NASCAR speedway,” added New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman. The Democrat has pitched the “FURIOUS Act”, which if passed would authorize New York City officials to operate photo speed violation monitoring systems in school speed zones the city has designated as areas of special concern for street racing.
The bill is no doubt named after the Fast & Furious film franchise that has been glorifying street racing since 2001. Fast & Furious 10 is slated for release in April 2023.