Legislators Wrestle With Street Racing Problem
Following the death of eight people in an accident during a street race in Prince George's County, Maryland state legislators are considering new laws to stiffen penalties for those who participate in illegal street racing and to prohibit people from helping organize or attend such events.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D), chair of the Prince George's delegation, said existing penalties against street racing are so weak they are "just something you laugh at." Muse said he believes tougher penalties would help prevent street races in the future.
"Getting into a car and intentionally doing that on a public road is no different than picking up a gun and shooting a gun at random," Muse said. "When you behave that way behind the wheel of an automobile, seeing the kind of devastation it's caused, then obviously we see it the same way."
Meanwhile, legislators and administration officials said the weekend's accident provides new momentum for highway safety legislation, including a measure that would authorize local jurisdictions to use cameras to enforce speed limits.
Del. Jolene M. S. Ivey (D-Prince George's) suggested installing speed cameras on rural roads such as Route 210 and using technology to immediately alert police officers when a vehicle goes faster than a predetermined speed.
Ivey, whose husband Glenn is the county's top prosecutor, also expressed support for a law prohibiting people from being spectators at illegal street races.
"Maybe they wouldn't have been out there if they'd known that it was not just illegal for the people racing, but that it was illegal for them to be present," Ivey said. "Of course, the government can't be everybody's Mommy. Of course, people need to make these decisions on their own. But I think if the law were that they shouldn't have been there, then I believe they wouldn't have been there."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), whose district includes the accident site in Accokeek, said he expects a number of bills to be introduced in coming days addressing street racing.
"But we need to make certain the law will actually do something to dissuade people from risking injury to themselves and to the public," Miller said.
Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari testified yesterday before a Senate committee in favor of the speed cameras legislation. But asked in an interview about other legislative measures to prevent future speed racing accidents, Porcari said "it's too early for any final conclusions."
"If any activity that reckless or that dangerous is taking place, there's little in the way of highway design or law enforcement activities that can effectively stop that," Porcari said.
Some lawmakers effectively threw up their hands, saying they did not know what could be done at a legislative level to prevent a nighttime activity that is so well organized that it eludes police.
"I don't know what you do," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D), whose Charles County district is home to some of the victims's families.
Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary's), who also represents some of the families, said speed racing has "gone on for years and nobody's done anything about it."
"What do we do? Make something that's illegal more illegal? It's an enforcement problem. It's wrong. You can't make something that's wrong any more wrong."
Dyson said law enforcement agencies have been aware of the dangers and popularity of speed racing in Prince George's and Southern Maryland, but have "looked the other way on it."
-- Philip Rucker
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