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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

By Anne Bartlett  |  February 20, 2008; 10:27 AM ET
 
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Comments

Sen. Dyson doesn't know what he is talking about. If he had any clue he would realize that on a weekend night PG County is a hell hole with police cruisers racing back and forth across the county answering emergency calls. It takes ten or more cruisers to effectively block off a road and round up the spectators in at a scene like there was on Route 210. Perhaps he could introduce legislation to pay for three hundred more officers who could patrol this area.

And Delegate Ivey must be dreaming. Install speed cameras? Does he/she know how long it takes for the public to find out where speed cameras are located and then everyone simply avoids them or slows down.

Posted by: Jay | February 20, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Of course this points to the greater issue because the racers did not actually injure or kill anyone. Instead of oppressive restriction, setup locations to race that are in PG county. I know there are other places in Maryland, but no one wants to go to Buds Creek or Millersville. Give these young people an outlet, don't suppress them.

Posted by: Sivad | February 20, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm from Maryland and when I heard about this I was shocked..Then again I lived there for 33 years and everyone knows where to go to race and thats 210..But here is one thing I heard from a Friend that was listening to the scanner that evening and They called the Police 2 Hours Before the race is happening and they knew it was going on and they didnt do anything to the police department..What happen why didn't they show up? I feel really bad for the Driver that hit the people..

Posted by: Terri Raleigh NC | February 20, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I like how they keep calling it "speed racing"...as opposed to "slow racing"?

Posted by: Liz | February 20, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Life imitates art.

I blame Pinks, Pinks All Out, and all drag-racing shows on Speed Channel.

Posted by: Micky Flik | February 20, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Every month more and more local racetracks are being shut down due to encroaching developments. As these racetracks get shut down, there are fewer place for kids or other racers to safely race their cars.

Shows such as Pinks are filmed on sanctioned drag strips and demonstrate to the kids that racing should be done in a regulated environment, not on the street.

The root cause is a lack of safe, legal and regulated racetracks. If homeowners in encroaching developments, stop complaining about car noise and embrace race tracks as a way to make the streets safer, these types of incidents will decline.

However, kids will be kids...

Posted by: Greg | February 20, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I lost a family member, to this tragedy. You can not blame pinks because this has been going on long before pinks aired. Who is to blame it happened and all we are doing is pointing fingers about who, why and we should do. I am a motorcycle rider, and I love drag racing grew up with it in my life at Budds Creek. Didn't like the illegal drag racing always feared this would happen, thought that someone would lose control of their car or motorcycle and crash in the crowd and it happened. I am very sorry for each family that lost a loved one, a friend, a brogher, a dad, a cousin and I pray that the lose will help you to understand life is too short. It can happen to anyone of us, do you think any of those victims knew that it would be their last race? They weren't going to return home, they weren't going to let their friends know who won the race, just to say I went and saw it, I won. I pray for each family and the driver of the car that God will release any pain in your hearts and think what can I do to help put this to an end.

Posted by: BB Charles County | February 20, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"Does he/she know how long it takes for the public to find out where speed cameras are located and then everyone simply avoids them or slows down."

Well, isn't that the point? To slow down? Do we care WHY they're slowing down?

Posted by: E in TX | February 20, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I really feel bad about it and my sincere condolences go out to all the families that were affected by this tragedy. This is actually ironic but you've got to realize that this was not caused by any of the race car drivers per say. This was caused by some random driver who happened to crash into onlooking spectators; needless to say the driver was operating on a suspended license and maybe even without his lights on. Maybe they should actually be targeting drivers with suspended licenses also (which in reality is like a needle in a haystack). This is a very dicy issue. I view this as leverage to lash out at the street racing community.
why havent they done so over the years if they thought it was that dangerous.. I guess they were waiting for the smoking gun!

Posted by: XPin VA | February 20, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I think the ultimate punishment happened last week when 8 people tragically lost their lives to something that is so senseless. They don't need to pass new laws. Do you know how many cops work at 3AM? A handful...if that many. I believe that people will think twice about drag racing because of this horrible incident. I think we should keep educating the public on the dangerous of drag racing.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 20, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

The Southern Maryland Extra is interested in printing some of your opinions about street racing in the Sunday edition. Send emails, with your name attached to smextra@washpost.com or lanswortht@washpost.com by Friday.

Posted by: Phyllis Jordan | February 20, 2008 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Look for this to happen in Virginia when they close down Old Domimion Speed Way in Manassas...if you take away the tracks then people have no other place to race...

Posted by: Woodbridgeboy | February 20, 2008 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Speeding cameras are nothing more than a revenue generator. They will do nothing to deter this activity nor do they have any proven impact on highway safety. Stand up for your liberties and remember who's opportunistically pushing these cameras.

Posted by: So. MD Resident | February 20, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

ya mum

Posted by: ken | February 20, 2008 10:37 PM | Report abuse

I am a racing enthusiast and, like many others, I love the feeling of taking part in a race. However, that does not make street racing a good thing to do. Have I done it? yeah... what racer hasn't? The point is, organized street racing is the safest kind and very rarely do people, other than the racers themselves, get hurt. Spontaneous races are the worst and it is clearly proven. What happened in Prince George county was terrible but it was not the fault of the racers. I hate to say it because I do feel for the families of the victims but it was as much their fault as it was the driver's who hit them. For whatever reason, he was not paying as much attention to the road as he should have been but every driver does that; most are lucky enough that there is nothing there to hit when they stop focusing on the road. After the racers had taken off, the crowd walked onto the road in the middle of the night... that is simply one of the most dangerous things anyone can do. Yes, street racing needs to be handled; with open tracks and free admission nights and... sorry to say... stricter laws. In Charlotte, Police officers are confiscating street racers' cars and using them as undercovers; that is a fantastic idea. The cops get new cruisers and illegal racers are taken off of the streets. This should be a law in place at the Federal level; I am an avid racer and even I know this is necessary. In conclusion, this incident should not be the last straw that finally gets government moving on stopping street racing. It is practically a coincidence that there was an illegal race that night. Street racing is a big problem with easy solutions: laws like the one in Charlotte, open tracks with the correct zoning laws to protect them from being shut down and lastly, a few, rich racing enthusiasts who will sponsor races on their own private tracks.

Posted by: Racing Enthusiast with a conscience | February 21, 2008 5:48 AM | Report abuse

just to add something, street racing is not something "kids" do. Take a look at the ages of the victims: 20, 33, 38, 39, 49 and 61... all ages are involved and the "kids will be kids" theory needs to be thrown out the window if law makers are going to get anywhere.

Posted by: Racing Enthusiast with a conscience | February 21, 2008 5:55 AM | Report abuse

Speeding cameras are nothing more than a revenue generator. They will do nothing to deter this activity nor do they have any proven impact on highway safety. Stand up for your liberties and remember who's opportunistically pushing these cameras.


The purpose of cameras is to slow down to prevent people from driving like fools. If people slowed down I guess revenue would not be generated. I don't know if you have drive on 210 but it is hard to believe how fast they drive. There is at least 1 fatal accident on 210 every month.
As far as blaming someone for the accident how about blaming the people standing in the road. They made that choice.

Posted by: Resident | February 21, 2008 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Fully fund, train, and equip law enforcement. Its been a long time coming.

Posted by: Donny | February 23, 2008 10:13 PM | Report abuse

I have a DRAG SCHOOL in Carlisle, PA. It is an anti-street racing/aggressive driving DRAG SCHOOL called STREET TO STRIP. The grown ups in this country have forgotten their own youthful, often dangerous activities. Unfortunately times have changed, and developement, money money, has taken away many of the places and drag strip that existed for the youth. There's NOT ENOUGH adult, police and community involvement in young adult activities. They are not ready to become doctors just because they graduated from high school.. they have keys to a car and they will exploit that. Times have changed, but teenagers haven't. WAKE UP PEOPLE.. get involved with your driving teens.. find out what they are up to.. take them to the drag strip if there is one. THE DRAG SCHOOL will change their lives forever.. they learn respect for LIFE. PO Box 78 Lewisbery PA 17339 The Cowboy

Posted by: The Cowboy | March 2, 2008 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Sorry I just came across this blog but as "drier" weather conditions are here this subject becomes all the more important. Students will soon graduate and some lucky ones may even receive vehicles that they have no business operating on the street. I'm not referring to the (sadly) fewer and fewer young men AND women who get a "junker" and under some mentor (used to be the parent but most people today don't know squat about their cars) tear down, repair and rebuild a reciprocating-type engine vehicle (yes, I know they're going the way of the dinosaur but they still outnumber the greens). After which it was a given that you took it to the local drag strip to test&tune. Well, as pointed out by several posters, it takes only ONE homeowner (almost ALWAYS a NOOB to the area), in their "McMansion" built or bought with the knowledge a drag strip, complete with noise, was nearby. Within a month they're demanding that these usually historic strips be destroyed. (It is funny-not! that these same folks are the first to wring their hands and sob when the wreck occurs, occasionally because their own kin are involved). I watched this happen most recently in Frederick Cnty,MD at 75-80. Yes, street "racing" will always be with us. But unless citizens and local legislators wake up and provide a controlled strip as an outlet (plus encourage training such as The Cowboy's in Carlisle), tragedies like this one, will soon require its own column in the Post.

Posted by: miss piston | April 10, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

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