Something deep in our national psyche idealizes illegal street racing. Maybe it’s the “bad boy” element of flaunting the law and public safety, or the thrill-seeking, the flirting on the edge of disaster.
With each passing weekend it’s increasingly apparent that the Dallas Police Department and City Council crackdown on illegal street racing announced this year is not working and additional strategies need to be considered.
Dallas’ struggle with street racing isn’t new, though it often was confined to a few isolated roads. Emboldened by less crowded streets during the pandemic, street racers are turning neighborhoods all over Dallas into their personal playgrounds.
There is nothing redeeming about this behavior, often romanticized in movies and television shows, and celebrated by the racers themselves in social media and videos posted online like a sports highlights reel.
Just last weekend, a car spun out of control along Greenville Avenue, feet away from a cafe and its sidewalk tables. This summer, drivers were caught on video doing doughnuts in Victory Park near the American Airlines Center.
In February, a man who wasn’t even involved in racing died when two street racers drove his car off of the road in southeast Dallas. Less than two months later, a Pleasant Grove resident died after he was thrown off a truck at a race.
The problem is that street racing is more than a few teenagers doing irresponsible things on the weekend. Police say guns, gang-related activity, drugs, stolen cars, insurance fraud, illegal vehicle modifications and assaults for unpaid gambling debts make street racing events criminal jamborees.
Part of the problem is that street racing is treated as a nuisance problem when the ramifications are far more serious. When street racers invest thousands of dollars in their vehicles and make high-stake wagers, the threat of a fine, six months in jail, a suspended driver’s license and hours of community service are hardly deterrents. Even efforts to discourage crowds by fining racing spectators or impounding their cars if the owner can’t produce proof of insurance don’t seem to be abating the problem.
Reducing illegal street racing is a community problem whose solution can’t begin and end with a heavy reliance on police to play whac-a-mole with street racers. It’s time for much broader discussion of possible remedies. Other stakeholders, including state lawmakers, federal authorities and insurance companies, have to be brought into the mix to discuss how current or new laws could be used to curb this behavior.
In some neighborhoods, installing speed bumps or making certain streets inaccessible for racing through overnight lane reductions or other traffic calming techniques should be considered. Also, city officials should explore collaborations with aftermarket parts companies and those who modify cars to be part of the conversation about solutions. And the nexus of guns and drugs and racers who travel an underground circuit across state lines should be enough to ask whether there is a role for federal prosecutors. Likewise, state lawmakers should discuss whether laws should be passed to toughen penalties or make it easier for cars involved in illegal street racing to be seized.
We don’t pretend that there are easy solutions. Racers who block off major city streets, perform trick stunts and race at high speeds pose dangers that neighborhoods should not have to tolerate.
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