By Guillermo Azabal |
Los Angeles (USA) (EFE).- Every weekend, peripheral neighborhoods of American cities such as Los Angeles witness hundreds of illegal car races, a phenomenon that was greatly popularized by the “Fast & Furious” saga. ” (2001) and that keeps the police in check due to the increase in accidents.
The roar of engines, smoke from exhaust pipes and the noise of skidding are the main attractions both for those who decide to compete, and aspire to a prize of several thousand dollars, and for the spectators who come with the idea of capturing the dangerous spectacle on networks. social.
In practice, the organizers interpose vehicles on avenues and restrict traffic to mainly undertake risk demonstrations that range from the classic “donuts” -spins in which the car rotates 180 degrees on its own axis- to jumps with the car running. to dance or act around it.
The Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Challenger or the Infiniti G35 are among the models preferred by these reckless drivers, since they offer high horsepower, with relatively easy to modify engines and without exorbitant prices.
“If you hit another car, they kick you off the track and can break your car or steal it. That is the discipline that is imposed on you,” explained Junior, one of the attendees of an illegal race in the Watts area (south of Los Angeles), in statements to EFE.
Human losses due to illegal races
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in the past decade alone, 800 people have lost their lives in racing-related incidents.
The states of California, with 188 deaths, and Texas, with 128, lead this classification that does not coincide with the record of the number of fines linked to clandestine races.
A section in which Wyoming, North Dakota and Wisconsin appear in the lead, which reveals that the problem extends throughout the country’s geography.
Although, if there is a neighborhood particularly corroded by this phenomenon, it is Angelino Heights, an area located just 5 kilometers from downtown Los Angeles with the “misfortune”, according to the neighbors, that their Bob’s Market store is shown in the film ” Fast & Furious” as the business run by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel).
“It’s hell living here. Every day fifteen or twenty cars of fans gather to spin at the entrance to the store, ”explained Arturo, a local who has seen how his neighborhood has been transformed.
The role of gangs
The problem, which grew with the expansion of social networks and was fueled by outdoor gatherings as a leisure alternative during the pandemic, has caused the traffic division of the Los Angeles Police Department to reinforce its specialized teams to end with clandestine races.
Up to twenty uniformed officers from the central police station are joining efforts to respond to calls from jaded neighbors, detect on platforms like Instagram where street seizures are being organized and leave immediately to try to prevent accidents.
“In South Los Angeles there are 72 gangs within 20 kilometers of each other. In many cases, they are linked to the races because they earn money through succulent bets and reproductions on social networks,” Sergeant Manuel Sánchez explained to EFE from his patrol car.
And it is that the number of “likes” in the publications is essential to decide the winner in a race or in demonstrations of skill such as “donuts”.
Raids on illegal races
Shootings and the seizure of marijuana or methamphetamine are also a constant in the raids by these agents, who have even confiscated AK-47 assault rifles.
“These people don’t care about others. They close streets and even when they hit the public or shoot, the doctors can’t access it,” Sánchez said during the search of three young people involved in a race in Watts.
What followed was a scene that was repeated every night: the tow truck takes the vehicle to the warehouse where it will remain for a month, the driver must pay $2,500 to get it out, and the detained spectator has to pay $250 to participate.
A “ridiculous” sum, according to the police, because “that is what many of them carry in their pockets” when they are arrested, which encourages them to reoffend when recovering the car.
Sergeant Sánchez stressed the need to increase the amount of the fines, have the power to withdraw their driver’s license, and encourage these activities to be transferred to professional circuits.
Education as a tool to educate young people
The other great tool to combat this phenomenon is raising awareness in schools, a task carried out by Street Racing Kills (SRK), an organization founded by the Mexican Lili Trujillo Puckett after the death of her daughter Valentina at the age of 16 in one of these races in 2016.
One of SRK’s demands is to push for the movie studios behind movies like “Fast & Furious” to emphasize more clearly that what they reflect is fiction.
“Nobody was talking about this topic when I started. I went to the police and legislators, we would have avoided many victims if we had acted before, ”Trujillo assured EFE from his office in Los Angeles.
Victims and tragic experiences like that of Raúl Contreras Jr., a man who now works as an educator with SRK but who previously spent 22 years in prison for a driving incident that occurred when he was 18 years old and in which a girl ended up dying.
“In the movies there are repetitions, in real life it happens once and there is no going back,” Contreras Jr. settled during an interview.