Translation(s): Sokak Yarişlari (Turkish)
The guide begins by describing the problem of street racing and reviewing factors that contribute to it. The guide then identifies a series of questions that might assist you in analyzing your local street racing problem. Finally, the guide reviews responses to the problem and what is known about these from evaluative research and police practice.
While street racing and cruising share some common characteristics, there are important differences between the two activities and those who participate in them.† Cruising typically involves an older crowd, and is a highly public and largely nostalgic event that is often confined to downtown areas. Cruising can also provide an economic boost to the community.†† Street racing typically involves a younger crowd that conducts its activities in an underground fashion to avoid police attention and presents significant risks of serious personal injury.
† See the POP Guide on Cruising.
†† Northern Nevada’s “Hot August Nights” event, for example, generates $132 million for the Reno and Sparks economies, and brings more than a half million people to the area during the weeklong event (RRC Associates, 2003).
Police must also address other problems related to street racing, which are not directly addressed in this guide . Other problems that may call for separate analysis and responses include:
† Hondas, Acuras, and other preferred racing vehicles are among the top five makes of vehicles stolen nationally (Sloan, 2004).
† For example, a racer wagers his car’s racing wheels or custom seat covers and loses; he then files a police report and insurance claim stating the items were stolen in order to obtain a new set; or, a racer who blows an engine will abandon the vehicle and then report it stolen, to acquire money for a replacement (Sloan, 2004).
The American street-racing tradition dates back to the 1950s, and has long been a staple of Hollywood movies, including films such as “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), “American Graffiti” (1973), and “Grease” (1978). But no movie did more to boost the popularity of street racing than the 2001 surprise hit, “The Fast and the Furious,” which grossed nearly $80 million in its first 10 days in theaters and includes spectacular racing scenes and daring stunts (including one where a car swerves back and forth beneath a speeding tractor-trailer).2 Although the movie studio issued public service announcements that encouraged safe and legal driving, the film likely provided fresh inspiration to street racers.†
† A 78-year-old man was killed in Los Angeles by a speeding driver who had just seen the movie, and in Redwood City, California, officers arrested six men caught racing down Interstate 280 at more than 120 miles per hour; all had ticket stubs from the film in their pockets (Squatriglia and Nevius, 2003). I n San Diego County, California, where the movie was made, 15 people were killed in racing-related incidents in the year after the movie’s release ( Reno, 2002) .
The street racing population consists of several distinct demographic groupings. One is estimated to be between 18 and 24 years of age, generally living at home and typically having little income.3 Another group involves predominantly older (25 to 40 years of age) white males who engage in building and racing the older types of “muscle cars:” Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs, and so on. Asian and Hispanic males of a wide range of ages and driving later model imported cars—such as Hondas, Acuras, Mitsubishis, and Nissans—are another group.4 Presently, the latter group dominates the street racing scene.5
Many street racers spend large amounts of money upgrading their cars’ performance. Credit: quebecstreetracing.org
Police suspect that many racers engage in illegal activities in order to finance their hobby; some agencies report that stolen vehicles have been stripped of parts that were later recovered from street racing vehicles.6
Whether by lawful or unlawful means, many racers feel they must devote huge sums of money to “soup up” their race cars; a major upgrade, with supercharger blowers, nitrous oxide systems, and other high-performance equipment can easily exceed $10,000.7For many racers, getting the maximum performance out of their cars is very important to them and they will expend a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort toward that end.8
How dangerous is street racing? Data are difficult to obtain, because neither the federal government nor the insurance industry tracks related casualties, nor is software yet available for creating a database of street racing.9 However, measures are being taken in some jurisdictions to address this shortcoming and are discussed below. One unofficial estimate, derived from examining news reports and police data from 10 major cities and extrapolating on the basis of national population figures, is that at least 50 people die each year as a result of street racing.10 Although related deaths are difficult to quantify, media reports confirm that street racing takes its toll on innocent people as well as street racers, passengers, and onlookers.
At the root of the problem is the fact that youths have always had, according to one scholar, a “profound need for speed.”11 This love of speed is not restricted to the youth of the United States; indeed, the problem has reached serious levels in Canada, Australia, Germany, England, France, New Zealand, and Turkey.12 In Canada, where a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer was killed by a racer in 200213 and another 18 people died in the Toronto area in street racing incidents during a four-year period,14 a new law was introduced in which street racing is an aggravating factor when sentencing persons convicted of dangerously or negligently operating a motor vehicle.15 In Vancouver, British Columbia, street racing can include an activity known as a “hat race,” also known as a “kamikaze” or “cannonball run,” in which drivers put money in a hat; the money is taken to an undisclosed location from which a call is made, informing the drivers where the cash awaits. The first driver to get there wins all the money. Pedestrians have been killed during such races.16
Race starters and observers are often positioned very close to the racing vehicles, putting themselves at considerable risk of injury. Credit SDStreetracing.com
Today in the United States, the racing tradition replays itself during every weekend in thousands of communities in the nation. The primary difference today is that street races are extraordinarily brazen and elaborately orchestrated functions, involving flaggers; timekeepers; lookouts armed with computers mounted in their cars, cell phones, police scanners, two-way radios, and walkie-talkies; and websites that announce race locations and even calculate the odds of getting caught by the police.17 Some websites even provide recaps of the previous night’s races, complete with ratings of police presence, crowd size, and a link to the police agency so the curious can see if a warrant has been issued for their arrest.18
Street races typically involve racers and spectators meeting at a popular gathering place, often on a relatively remote street in an industrial area. Here they decide where to race; they then convoy to the site, where a one-eighth or one-quarter mile track is marked off. Cars line up at the starting line, where a starter stands between them and drops his or her hands to begin the race. Several hundred spectators may be watching. Unlike racetracks that allow spectators to observe races in a safe, closed environment, these illegal street races encourage spectators to stand near possibly inexperienced drivers and poorly maintained vehicles—a combination that can be deadly for onlookers standing a few feet away from vehicles racing at highway speed.19 Other peripheral activities may be involved as well. For example, racers and spectators engage in what are termed “sideshows,” such as using vehicles and onlookers to block off an intersection and thus backing up regular vehicular traffic for considerable distances and preventing the police from arriving at the scene; then the racers at the intersection engage in 360 ° burnouts, races, and so on.20 Racers also participate in what is termed the “centipede,” where they form a convoy of vehicles and play follow-the-leader, darting in and around normal traffic at high speeds. Or, they may speed around corners to see how far they can slide their tires.
Street racing can also be unorganized and sporadic in nature, involving impromptu, one-time races between persons who do not know one another; the police generally have little means for dealing with these types of racers other than utilizing the media to make it very clear that, if caught, the violators will be severely prosecuted.21
The specific harms caused by street racing include:
Crashes caused by street racing are often spectacular and cause serious injury and property damage. Credit: Marion ( Ind.) Chronicle-Tribune
Retaliatory offenses may also occur, such as when citizens try to deal with the problem themselves by placing nails on the ground where racers congregate or vandalizing racers’ cars, for example.
Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.
There are several reasons why street racing can become, or remain over time, a popular pastime in a community:
The information provided above is only a generalized description of street racing. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.
A shortcoming at present is the lack of dedicated coding and analysis of street racing data in most police agencies. No software presently exists for the identification and analysis of racing offenses, and agencies must typically hand search their records for higher-level analyses. Others have a dedicated calls-for-service code specifically for racing issues that the officers can use for reporting and communications personnel can query. A problem that can arise with such coding, however, is that it may fail to include other offenses that flow from, or arise out of, illegal racing (auto thefts, other thefts, assaults, trespassing, and so on), or to provide information about groups that gather at retail parking lots. At a minimum, the crime analysis unit or communications section should be contacted to determine how many personnel hours are spent at racing locations, including days of the week and times of day. Furthermore, the agency is advised to create at least a rudimentary database or modify existing records management systems so that street racing-related activity (including crimes, disturbances, traffic and pedestrian stops, vehicle and pedestrian traffic congestion, traffic crashes, arrests, etc.) can be tracked.If such a database does not exist, you may have to manually search through individual complaint records and police reports to determine which are related to street racing.
Police in California have been attempting for years to convince the state to alter its accident investigation form to include coding for street racing. Once the procedure is developed statewide, agencies will be able to obtain reliable data. Until the new form is developed, the California Highway Patrol has disseminated a training memo instructing local officers where to include a racing-related notation. The key for California agencies, and eventually for other agencies nationwide, will be to provide officers with necessary training. Most officers are unfamiliar with street racing codes, rules, and laws; therefore, as the ability is expanded for agencies to track racing incidents, if the responding or investigating officer is not properly trained, a concern is that the proper boxes on the form will not be completed. The San Diego Police Department presently offers training in this regard; thus far, about 2,000 officers have been trained in how to determine when a racing relationship exists with a reported incident.26
In Milpitas, California, each time an officer is either dispatched to any type of call for service or initiates any activity (e.g., traffic or pedestrian stops, arrests, citation, accepting a report of a crime, etc.), at the conclusion of that activity, the officer is required to provide the communications division with a classification code that identifies the specific type of activity. As with all other offenses, a specific classification was simply developed that includes street racing incidents. Race-related traffic enforcement stops; disturbances of any kind involving racers; crimes in which racers are listed as suspects; or other circumstances in which individuals are actively racing at, loitering about, or traversing to and from common racing venues are examples of such classifications.27
Several race-related websites exist that may be used by the police to track racers’ activities as well as provide useful information to racers. For example, Streetracing.com provides racing and club news, articles, events, calendars, chatrooms, message boards, auctions, and other information for many cities and states. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) is a 5,000-member trade organization for the aftermarket industry; although SEMA often mounts strong opposition to police efforts and proposed racing legislation, it may offer another avenue to reach racers through the retailers who sell parts.28 Others, such as RaceLegal.com and the National Hot Rod Association’s NHRA.com, focus more on encouraging legal racing, and attempt to educate their readers about related laws and statistics (e.g., numbers of illegal racers who were recently killed, injured, cited, arrested, or who had vehicles seized or licenses revoked).
The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular street racing problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.
The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to street racing:
You should be alert to the possibility that your responses to street racing might displace racers and related offenses, either geographically or to other types of crimes. This might not be all bad if the displacement results in less overall harm. Crime and call-for-service data as well as websites should be monitored both locally and in other jurisdictions to determine whether racers are merely taking their activities to other venues.
Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. There is little published research about street racing; most of what is known is drawn from police practice. Several of these strategies may apply to your community’s problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.
Enlisting community support might include using members of a police Explorer post, citizens’ police academy, senior citizens’ groups, merchant association, and so on to report racers’ activities to police.29 Community support might also come from those who provide racers with their equipment, including shops selling high-performance car parts, and who are at risk for being burglarized for these parts. Although these shop owners may not wish to cooperate, if so inclined, they can be of considerable assistance in informing the police about racers’ illegal activities.
† The San Diego Police Department trains insurance investigators in matters concerning racing (Sloan, 2004) .
Following are some examples of how many police agencies have been aided with newly enacted ordinances and statutes in their attempts to prevent and address street racing:
† See the Redding ( Calif.) Police Department street racing web page at www.reddingpolice.org/
Legal, track-based alternatives to street racing are becoming more numerous. Among them is “Project X”, a program initiated in 1997 to bridge the gap between police officers and high school aged street racers. Credit: Novato ( Calif.) Police Department
Following are examples of such efforts:
|General Considerations for an Effective Strategy|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|1||Enlisting community support for addressing the problem||Maximizes the community efforts by involving people as stakeholders||…public officials, government agencies, insurance companies, business owners (including car parts stores), and citizens are involved in the effort||Involvement of such individuals and entities are key to the success of responses that are employed|
|2||Educating and warning street racers||Informs the street racers about the nature and extent of the problem from the community, police, legal, and safety perspectives||…the racers are informed of new and existing racing laws and enforcement actions to be taken, and then begin to fear arrest||Street racing and police agency websites, newspapers, television, radio, and personal contacts with street racers may be used|
|3||Conducting surveillance of the street racing scene||Allows police to take preventive action to discourage street racing and to apprehend violators by providing them with knowledge about street racing times, locations, and offenders||…illegal races are prevented and access to race areas are blocked||Officers may encounter staffing shortages for large-scale operations; if racers become aware of police tactics, it will become more difficult to infiltrate the crowds|
|4||Encouraging others to exercise informal control over street racing participants||Persuades street racing participants to cease or curtail racing activity through informal social control||…street racing participants respect the opinions of those seeking to control their behavior and/or fear the consequences of failing to heed informal warnings||Street racing participants who feel marginalized from society are unlikely to respond to informal social control methods|
|Specific Responses to Problems of Street Racing|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|5||Enforcing ordinances and statutes||Deters offenders through threat of fines, incarceration, or seizure of vehicles||…enforcement is sufficiently certain that offenders believe they are likely to be apprehended; prosecutors are willing to prosecute and judges impose sufficient sanctions||Can be labor intensive and time consuming; creates risks of high-speed chases|
|6||Impounding and/or forfeiting vehicles used for street racing||Deters speed racers through threat of loss of valuable property and means to race||…the ordinance is widely publicized to deter illegal racing, and an impound fee is assessed in order for the driver to reclaim the vehicle||Ordinances must be enacted providing for impounding or seizing vehicles; city prosecutors and other public officials must first support this approach|
|7||Encouraging private businesses to adopt measures that will help address the problem||Deters racers and spectators from gathering to plan their activities and engaging in crime and disorder||…such measures as posting “no trespassing” signs, controlling access to the parking lot, hiring private security, and closing the business early can be used||Can be costly for business owners, both in terms of outlay (e.g., to hire private security personnel) and in lost revenues if closing early|
|8||Closing streets and/or restricting traffic flow and parking||Prevents racers from using preferred roads; discourages spectators from gathering along roads||…there are limited alternative streets on which to race||May disrupt other legitimate use of the roadway; may displace racing to other more dangerous roads|
|9||Creating and/or encouraging racers’ relocation to a legal racing area||Diverts street racers to a safe, sanctioned location||…street racers are willing to race at legal racing venue; private enterprise is willing to fund and staff the racing venue||Legal liability and safety issues must be addressed|
|Responses With Limited Effectiveness|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|10||Installing speed bumps||Speed bumps, as opposed to speed humps, can damage the undercarriages of large vehicles and interfere with emergency vehicle responses|
|11||Arresting and charging spectators as race participants||Defining spectators as participants may not withstand legal challenge|
|12||Citing and releasing racers||Fines may be inadequate to deter persons heavily committed to racing|
|13||Deploying decoy police vehicles||Police vehicles vulnerable to vandalism|
 Orwall (2001).
 Lowery (2003).
 Wilkens (2003b).
 Leigh (1995).
 Neil (1999).
 Wilkens (2003a), quoting Stephen Bender.
 Wilkens (2003a).
 CBC News (2002).
 Toronto.cbc.ca (2002).
 CBC News (2003).
 Rendon (2001).
 Wilkens (2003a).
 Dobner (2001).
 Lau (2002).
 Sloan (2004).
 Lau (2002).
 Sloan (2004).
 Pangelinan (2004).
 Pangelinan (2004).
 Lowery (2003).
 Reno Police Department (2003).
 Velasquez (2003).
 Munoz (2003).
 Los Angeles Police Department (2001).
 Reno Police Department (2003); also see Ontario Police Department (2000) for passage and successful use of a new street-closure ordinance. See, for example, Wilkens (2003a), concerning a university professor who founded a nonprofit group that sponsors legal racing at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium.
 Brinsfield (2001).
 Redding Police Department (2003).
Brinsfield, S. (2001). “‘Beat the Heat’ Revs Up Anti-Drug Programs.” www.americanprofile.com/issues (Accessed July 14, 2003).
CBC News, “Street Racing in Canada.” www.cbc.ca/news/features/streetracing030205.html (Accessed April 29, 2004).
CBC News, “Two Men Charged in Death of a B.C. RCMP Officer.” Accessed April 29, 2004).
Clar, J. (2003). “Chapter 411: Putting the Brakes on the Dangerous Street Racing Phenomenon in California.” 34 McGeorge L. Rev. 372 (Winter).
Dobner, J. (2001). “Speed Demons.” San Diego Union-Tribune, August 5, p. N1.
Lau, A. (2001). “Tapping the Brakes: Police Sweeps Aim to Stop Street Racing Sites for Legal Events Sought.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 7, p. B1.
Leigh, A. (1995). “Youth and Street Racing.” Current Issues in Criminal Justice 7 (3) (March):2.
Los Angeles Police Department, Press Release, “ Illegal Street Racer Police Sweeps Keep Streets Safer in Valley.” June 24. www.lapdonline.org.press_releases/2001 (Accessed July 11, 2003).
Lowery, Jr., P. J. (2003). “ Curb Illegal Street Racing.” The Police Chief70 (1) (September):51-54.
Milpitas Police Department (2002). “Street Racer Abatement Project.” Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.
Munoz, H. (2003). “ Sun Valley Residents Laud Crackdown on Drag Racing.” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2003, p. B4.
Neil, D. (1999). “Heads Up, No Bust, on Asphalt.” Car and Driver, January 1999, pp. 149-156.
Ontario Police Department (2000). “Slamming the Brakes on Street Racing in Ontario.” Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.
Orwall, B. (2001). “Fearing Copycats, Universal Warns Against Mimicking New Action Film.” Wall Street Journal, June 21, p. B1.
Pangelinan, S. (2004). City of Milpitas, California, Police Department, personal communication, May 21, 2004.
Przybys, J. (2003). “Ready to Roll.” Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 15, p. 1J. http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2003/Jun-15-Sun-2003/living/21499901.html
Redding Police Department, website. (Accessed August 12, 2003).
Rendon, P. (2001). “The Thrill That Kills.” Maclean’s, September 17, pp. 36-38.
Reno Police Department, Press Release (2003). “ Illegal Street Racing Operation Dragnet.” June 29.
Reno , J. (2002). “Furiously Fast Racing.” Newsweek, November 4, p. 10.
RRC Associates (2003). Hot August Nights: 2003 Special Event Research and Visitor Profile Study. Boulder, Colo.: Author.
San Diego Police Department (2003). “Drag-Net.” Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.
Sibley, M. (2001). “‘Beat the Heat’: A Youth Program Races to Keep Kids Off the Street.” Law and Order 49 (2):60-64. [Full Text]
Sloan, G. (2004). City of San Diego, California, Police Department, personal communication, May 21, 2004.
Squatriglia, C., and C. W. Nevius (2003). “Police Gear Up for Summer of Speed and Reckless Driving.” San Francisco Chronicle, June 11, p. A1. http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/06/11/MN176138.DTL
Stockton Police Department (2003). “Project Black Flag.” Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.
Stokes, D. (2003). “Racers Against Street Racing.” Law and Order 51(1) (January):77-79. [Full Text]
Toronto.cbc.ca (2002). “Photo-radar Floated as Cure for Drag Racing.” http://toronto.cbc.ca/regional/servlet/View?filename=race_150702 (Accessed April 29, 2004).
Velasquez, M. (2003). City of San Diego, California, Press Release, “ First City in the State to Pass ‘Vehicle Forfeiture’ Ordinance!” (April 7).
Wilkens, J. (2003a). “Slamming on the brakes: Legal alternative, strict enforcement bring street racing to a screeching halt.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 23, p. E1.
———— (2003b). “Street Racing’s Deadly Finish: Legal Events, Police Not Slowing Need for Speed.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 27, p. A1.
Wilkinson, T. (1996). San Diego, California, Police Department, Northern Patrol Division. Submission for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.
The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.
City Centre Boy Racers, Nottinghamshire Police (Nottinghamshire, UK), 2007
DRAG-NET Unit, San Diego Police Department, 2003
Operation Lifeboat, North Wales Police, 2004
Police Intervention: Solution to a Road Safety Problem, Carabineros of Chile, 2009
Project Black Flag, Stockton Police Department, 2003
Slamming the Breaks on Street Racing in Ontario, Ontario Police Department (Ontario, CA), 2000
Street Legal Drags Project, Redding Police Department, 2003
Street Racer Abatement Project, Milpitas Police Department, 2002
Street Racing: A Fast Track to Jail, Plano Police Department, 2002
The Bell Road Fast and Furious Project, Glendale Police Department (Glendale, AZ), 2006
Van Wagner’s Beach Plan, Hamilton Police Service (Hamilton, ON, CA), 2004
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