Street racing rises alongside speeding on pandemic’s open roads

Street racing has been on the rise during COVID, reports say, giving police and lawmakers something besides old-fashioned speeders to contend with on local roads and highways that are carrying less traffic as a result of the pandemic. 

A 52-year-old mother of two was killed driving home in suburban Atlanta on Nov. 21 when a man in a Dodge Challenger who was allegedly street racing crashed into her head-on. In New York City, authorities received more than 1,000 drag racing complaints over six months last year — a nearly five-fold increase over the same period in 2019. It’s a story that repeats itself around the country as restless car enthusiasts take to the streets in search of thrills. 

Traffic deaths on America’s roads rose in 2020 despite an unprecedented decline in miles traveled as first responders around the country reported a rise in both dangerous driving offenses and hospital admissions due to reckless behavior and DUIs

Democratic New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman has introduced legislation that would authorize New York City to operate its speed cameras overnight and on weekends in hot spots for illegal street racing. In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law in March a bill that allows state troopers to respond to incidents in cities. On New Year’s Eve, drivers blocked traffic on an interstate highway in Jackson, the state capital, for an hour while they spun out and did donuts, etching circles in the pavement.

In Arizona, the state Senate has passed a bill to impose harsher penalties. It now awaits a House vote. Under an ordinance approved in March by the Phoenix City Council, police can impound a car involved in street racing or reckless driving for up to 30 days. Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, handed out thousands of tickets for speeding and racing since a crackdown began in October.

Street racing in an industrial neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, scares people who work there. A motorcyclist was killed last month in a crash that police said apparently involved racing. Business owners on April 2 wrote to the mayor and city commissioners, asking them to take action.

After weekends of racing and stunts, a road there and its 2-mile straightaway are littered with alcohol containers. Spray-painted lines mark start and finish lines. Parking lots are scarred by circular tire tracks or completely eroded in places by spinning tires. Portland police say they’re too overwhelmed to do much about it.

But some cops are in on the action, such as the two who drag raced their patrol cars through a residential Washington, D.C., neighborhood last month. They wound up crashing into each other. One officer was fired. That former officer and another officer, now under suspension, were charged last week with reckless driving and other traffic offenses, the Washington Post reported.

In Denver, where police have deployed the department’s helicopter to track races, closed lanes in areas often used by racers and sent officers to places where the groups meet, authorities are now trying a different tack: using a racetrack in the foothills west of the city to provide a safe venue for those who feel the need for speed.

The Colorado State Patrol has teamed with Bandimere Speedway to lure racers from public areas to a more controlled environment, even allowing participants to race a trooper driving a patrol car. The Colorado State Patrol has been involved in the “Take it to the Track” event for more than a decade, but its goals have gained new importance and urgency after two recent high-profile street racing incidents in the area.

Reporting from the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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