Racing a drag for officials

A cars modified engine is displayed at a legal drag racing event at Killarney. Street racers, who race on public roads illegally, also modify their cars and engines but some of the modifications are illegal.

Street racers feel they are being victimised for harmless fun.

A car and racing enthusiast says the illegal sport is safe and people only got injured once in a while.

“We know how to race,” he said.

The street racer, who did not want to be identified for fear of arrest, said an underground club of racers organised the illegal events all over the city.

“We are one of the biggest street racing organisations.”

He said the club, which had about 60 drivers, moved races around to avoid arrest but operated “everywhere”.

“We move every time we find a spot they don’t know about,” he said.

At a recent Kuils River Sector 1 Community Police Forum sub-forum meeting, police and neighbourhood watches discussed ways of clamping down on these illegal races, which are popping up all over Kuils River (“Lights, drag racing discussed at sub-forum,” Northern News, September 13).

A racing supporter commented on a Northern News article online saying: “They just don’t want to leave us alone.”

Her sentiment was echoed by the Plattekloof racer who said traffic officers looked for any excuse to arrest them.

He said the racers did not want to use formal race tracks because they charged fees and traffic officers waited outside to arrest them for car modifications or speeding.

“They look for any excuse,” he said. “What I don’t understand is that bigger wheels and suspension make the car more stable and safer on the road, but the drivers get arrested for illegal modifications.”

He said they preferred racing on long stretches of “safe” public roads and took precautions, such as making sure no spectators were in the road, to ensure safety before racing.

“There are no accidents in street racing. Almost never.”

Langverwacht councillor Roe-lof Mare disagrees. He said racers ate away chunks of his ward allocation budget by crashing into public property.

“Every few weeks, I have to replace the concrete slabs in the fencing along the Welgemoed cemetery,” he said.

The repairs cost between R30 000 to R50 000 each time, and a portion of that was paid from ward allocation.

“I could have used that money for other things, for maintenance in parks or buying new equipment,” he said.

The races take place every weekend and “at least once in the week” in several areas in his ward.

“They do much damage,” he said. “And they block off the roads, stopping other motorists from coming through. There are controlled spaces where they can race, but they don’t want to go there because it is controlled.”

Byron La Hoe, spokesman for the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works, said there were no drag-racing hot spots on provincial roads.

“This issue is really a City of Cape Town one on their municipal roads,” he said. “We don’t know any drag-racing hot spots outside of metro, apart from the R102 between Firgrove and Somerset West. However, our officials have seen a decline in incidents on this road after several enforcement interventions.”

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said it was important to draw the distinction between drag-racing, which was legal, and street racing, which was not.

“Drag-racing is a term which is often used to describe illegal street racing. Drag-racing is, in fact, legal and it is done on a track under strict safety conditions and with the necessary event permits.

“What is happening on our streets is a combination of the following: illegal street racing where two or more vehicles are involved in a race on a public road without written permission from the relevant authority; spinning, where a vehicle spins around in circles resulting in excessive smoke (burning rubber); drifting, where vehicles travel at certain speeds and the driver manipulates the steering causing the vehicle to drift from side to side; and park-offs, where drivers gather in a group to showcase their vehicles and equipment, for example, sound systems, modified engines etc.”

There were more than 20 hot spots in the city, he said, and he confirmed that traffic services did increase patrols outside Killarney after drag-racing events, as illegal racing spilled onto the roads outside the track.

The City runs crackdown operations on illegal street racing two to three times a week, often into the early morning.

Those caught racing can be arrested for reckless and negligent driving. If their vehicle is modified or does not meet the roadworthy standards, the use of the vehicle is suspended and the clearance certificate is removed and destroyed.

The driver will then need to roadworthy the vehicle within 14 days.

Illegal street racing can be reported to the police; the City’s emergency call centre at 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 from a cellphone; or to the Safety and Security communication centre at 021 596 1999.