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In-Depth: Police, states crack down as street racing surges during pandemic

New laws and stricter enforcement help curb racers
Posted at 5:57 AM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 09:51:30-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — As roads and freeways sat empty through most of the COVID-19 pandemic, police officers around the country noticed a rise in illegal street racing and other similar activities.

"People do seem to be a little bit more tense. People do seem to have a little bit more time on their hands. And when that happens, sometimes people seem to drive a little bit more aggressively," says Lt. Dan Peak from the Chula Vista Police Department.

He says complaints about racing or loud noise from revving engines outnumber every other call into the department, and it's gotten worse over the last 18 months.

According to numbers from CVPD, officers have issued 50 racing-related citations since March 2021. They've also made six arrests, impounded nine vehicles, and searched nine other cars for illegal parts or modifications.

San Diego Police didn't provide ABC 10News with exact numbers. Still, SDPD Traffic Division Officer Anthony Obregon says they, too, have seen an "explosion" in racing since the Pandemic began.

"Once the roadways were open, and people were not working, we saw a huge explosion in street racing," he says. "When you talk to these (drivers), they understand that it's dangerous, and they know that it's dangerous, but it's a risk that they're willing to take."

It's not a risk local police departments are willing to take. Obregon and Peak both say their departments have increased training, so officers know how to respond.

"There are certain vehicle code sections that apply and certain ones that apply whether they're in a parking lot or on the street," explains Officer Obregon. "So, there are a lot of intricacies when it comes to doing this type of enforcement."

RELATED: Grandmother killed by speeding motorist

SDPD also sends out three dedicated "street racing" details each month, with four officers and a sergeant working on enforcement.

Chula Vista PD also held special enforcement over the last year to try and put the brakes on the problem.

"There's no reason why this should take place," says Lt. Peak.

In Chula Vista, the issue took a deadly turn on June 5, when a driver involved in a street race hit another car, killing a grandmother and injuring two children.

Last fall, people in Solana Beach took video as cars overtook an intersection, revving engines and spinning donuts.

Those are just two incidents in San Diego County. Similar incidents across the United States have led to new laws.

RELATED: Illegal street racing takes over Solana Beach intersection

In May, Georgia enacted House Bill 534, which requires at least ten days in jail for any drag racing conviction.

The New York Senate is considering the "Furious Act," named after the "Fast and the Furious" movies that some believe are fueling the rise in racing. That bill, S77, would allow speed cameras to operate on nights and weekends in known racing hot spots.

Mississippi lawmakers are looking at two new laws. HB 655 would make street racing a felony, with a $2,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

The other law, SB 2788, allows State Troopers to respond to racing incidents in large cities where they didn't have jurisdiction. That law has already been passed and signed by the governor.

And in Arizona, the Senate Passed SB1533, which increases the penalties for racing-related crimes. It's now working its way through the House.

California law already does most of this, which is why Obregon and Peak say it's up to law enforcement and drivers to be responsible.

"It's not worth risking your life or risking the innocent life of somebody else for a street race for an intersection takeover," says Obregon.

RELATED: RaceLegal hoping to restart street racing

People with the need for speed used to have an outlet to race. Until it was demolished, the parking lot at SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley would host "RaceLegal" events a few times each year, where drivers could race in a safe, controlled environment.

When the city sold the stadium and surrounding land to SDSU for redevelopment, RaceLegal ceased operations. They haven't found a replacement venue.

"It would be great to see those legal venues open up again," says Lt. Peak, noting that giving people a legal option could help solve the problem.

But Officer Ortega says it won't solve everything.

"I think it would help bring the numbers down," he says. "But, inherently, we know that there are people that, you know, it drives them more when it's illicit and illegal."

Now, as more people return to their work commutes and traffic starts to build, both Officer Ortega and Lt. Peak hopes the extra traffic and extra enforcement will put the brakes on the surge in racing.