If something is illegal, the law says that it is not allowed. That is the basic definition for ‘illegal’, and it’s pretty straightforward. No ambiguity there.
Then what about illegal street racing? Apart from being totally unnecessary, it too is entirely illegal.
An in-car video of the recent Cape Town street racing crash.
Illegal street racing has been on everyone’s lips following a recent horror high-speed crash in Cape Town that saw the driver of a modified BMW M3 lose both his legs in an incident. The driver might be recovering in hospital, but fellow illegal racers have jumped to his support insisting that they will not stop racing on the street because they feel victimized by police for just wanting to enjoy the rush that comes with speeding.
An alternate view of the recent Cape Town drag racing crash
The same can be said for Durban, home of one of the largest illegal street racing hot spots in South Africa. The only difference between Durban and Cape Town is that the Mother City does
have a local race track in the form of Killarney. What about Durban then? Well, their nearest track is the state-of-the-art facility that is Dezzi Raceway, located some 120kms south of seaside city.
Events are hosted there monthly, in a controlled and safe environment, with rescue teams on standby; but illegal racers prefer to race on the street, endanger their lives and their fellow road users, instead of taking to the track. Accidents can also happen on track, but the difference is, there are trained reaction teams on standby to treat those involved. When quizzed, many street racers them boldly retort, that the “police cannot stop illegal street racing” and that “nothing compares to the rush” experienced by dicing with death by racing on public roads.
However, they couldn’t be more wrong. Because the reality is, Durban’s Metro Police does have a plan – and a very serious one at that. The plan involves disruptive operations that not only prevents street racing at hot spots, but are clamping down on illegally modified vehicles.
What does the latter mean though? Basically it means, that if your vehicle has been modified significantly enough from the way it originally left the show room floor – with parts that aren’t SABS-approved – you’re likely to have your licence disc confiscated, and your car immobilized, until you revert it to standard specification and have a roadworthy test conducted specifically at a RTI test station.
But wait, does Metro Police even know what modifications are? The answer is yes. Over the years, their officers have been trained to spot these things. It doesn’t matter if your car is a Citi Golf with a Simota cone filter, or an Audi RS3 with a larger turbocharger; they will spot it and prosecute accordingly. If your car is even suspected of being unroadworthy, an officer can request to be driven in your car to ascertain whether it is modded or not. There is no way around this though - much like with taxis, your vehicle is either roadworthy or not. It really is as simple as that.
Street racers, and many automotive enthusiasts for that matter, quip back that their cars are usually in better condition than many other road users, because they take pride in their cars, because it is their passion. While this might be true for some, the reality is many of these ‘so-called enthusiasts’ use cheap techniques to lower their cars (cutting springs), using stretched tyres, fitting turbochargers with no upgrades to the brakes or suspension system. Yes, these are all hazards on the road, and while it’s difficult the separate those that understand the fitting proper SABS-approved parts are the right way, versus those that take the easy way out, it’s important that Metro Police treats everyone the same, to ensure consistency in their approach.
Regarding the disruptive operations that Metro Police have instituted, these also include strategic road blocks to apprehend law breakers that are driving stolen cars, using fake license plates, and have outstanding warrants on their name. As you would expect, everything is done legally by Metro Police, and they can verify outstanding warrants on your name, in a matter of minutes, leading to you being arrested and hauled in front of a magistrate to face the music.
But street racers bemoan the fact that they are ‘easy targets’ and that Metro Police should concentrate on taxi’s and murders, etc. The reality is that racing on public roads is classified as an act just as illegal as a taxi that is driving recklessly; and it’s only fair that Metro Police comes down hard on anyone that breaks the law. In fact, statistics point to more convictions of taxi drivers than street racers, so street racers cannot feel they are being victimized.
One aspect that many people fail to understand, is that Metro Police’s mandate is, 1. Traffic enforcement, 2. By law enforcement, and 3. Crime prevention. Conversely, SAPS has their mandate in the reverse order, meaning there is very little overlap, unless both bodies are working together on a common project. Citizens lambasting Metro Police and telling them to “go solve real crimes”, should also be mindful that Metro Police doesn’t have detectives, like SAPS does, and cannot investigate those sort of crimes.
A breakdown of Metro Police’s directive above, are as follows:
• General traffic enforcement including drunk and driving, speeding and all moving offences, illegal parking, illegal blocking of entrance/exits, illegal ranking by taxis, noise/nuisance/hooting by taxis, abandoned and derelict vehicles dumped on the street
• Illegal hawkers, vagrancy, littering, burning of fires in public places, begging in public places, loitering (for purpose of prostitutions), animal nuisance
• Foot patrol (bobby on the beat), motorised patrol cars, vans and motor cycles, dog unit and equestrian unit, special events policing and police escorts
Racers are also too quick to use the excuse that there is no local racetrack, so they “have to” race on public roads, and that “Metro won’t organise them a legal event”. The reality is that this is neither the responsibility of Metro Police nor the Ethekwini Municipality. That said, it should be pointed out that the Ethekweni Municipality has been pushing very hard for a legal venue close to the CBD, with Virginia Airport and the ‘old’ Durban International Airport earmarked as possible sites for a legal drag event.
However, despite the Ethekweni Municipality pushing hard; Transnet, the owners of the land where the old airport stands wants nothing to do with drag racers, and neither do the tenants who have their luxury aeroplanes stored at Virginia Airport. It appears, that no reasonable amount of money (produced as a spin-off from the event) is enough to convince these parties otherwise.
One racer was recently quoted as saying, “Racing is in our blood and it’s still going to continue. I know we are breaking the law. My mother reminds me of that. But not all of us are risky. We race every week and nobody has died at our races. We just need the City to give us a road where we can race. Why don’t they give us a road on one evening a week?”
In actuality, it’s not that simple. While Metro Police and the Ethekwini Municipality are mindful and to a certain degree, respectful of the subculture of street racing, they simply cannot just allocate a stretch of road for racing, because of the legal risks that come with that. The last legal street race held in Durban took place some 11 years, and was canned when well-known Gauteng racer, Gert Vorster lost control of his Norris Designs-build Mitsubishi Lancer EVO under braking and crashed into a tree along the demarcated road, killing himself instantly. Since then, the city has steered clear of any possible repeat of this tragic encounter.
The fact remains, that if you choose not to race at a legal drag strip or race track and opt to run on the street, you are not only breaking the law, but putting yourself and others’ lives at risk; and as a result - if caught - will face the full wrath of the law. Any real drag racer, as well as logical road user will agree with this, because in the end, Metro Police are just doing their job of keeping us safe on the roads, by cracking down hard on those who drive recklessly, and drunk.