‘PMB’s ticking time-bomb’

2014-02-22 00:00

WITH cars built for speed barrelling down public roads to conquer 400 metres in 12 seconds, the safety of Pietermaritzburg road-users is under increasing threat.

But police continue to turn a blind eye to the bi-weekly illegal drag racing in the city centre.

Almost every Thursday and Saturday night, Victoria Road or New Greytown Road turn into a scene from the Fast and the Furious movies, where more than 120 drag racers and up to 1 000 spectators line the streets.

The streets remain open ground to the drag racers as the municipality’s traffic department says it does not have the capacity to police the streets after hours.

A municipal source said there were insufficient traffic officers to have a dedicated evening shift, when the drag races occur.

Plans are afoot, however, to employ at least 30 more officers to police Pietermaritzburg’s streets at night.

Late last year, three people were injured in a horrific crash at the corner of Victoria Road and Boshoff Street when two vehicles were allegedly drag racing down Victoria Road. According to witnesses, as the cars went through the intersection of Victoria and Boshoff, one hit a taxi.

The municipality has now come together with the drag-racing fraternity to provide a legal venue for the racers to indulge their passion.

With negotiations at full throttle, the steering committee and Msunduzi Municipality representatives say a legal track for the city’s 3 000-strong drag racing fraternity could be finalised within the next two months.

On Thursday night, the Illegal-to-Legal Drag Racing Committee met to decide on which venues to suggest to the municipality as the preferred racing spaces.

Businessman Zaheer Mahomed, who is on the committee, said while they championed the cause of drag racing, they distanced themselves from the illegal street racing.

“We are not part of that group, but we want to make sure that they have a place to race, thereby making out streets safe,” said Mahomed.

He said there were about 120 racers and more than 1 000 spectators at any of these illegal races, and that is where the danger arises.

“The roads are not cordoned off as the racers do not have the municipality’s permission to do so. Spectators can be injured as there are no barriers and, even worse, there are innocent people driving on the road who are unaware that people are racing,” said Mahomed.

Trying to stop the illegal racing, he said, was impossible as the racers, mainly youngsters, were keen to show off their vehicles’ power.

“It’s all a matter of pride to see who has the fastest car. No money changes hands, but the ultimate prize is your right to brag.

“Notice of the illegal races is sent out over social media, and the notice goes viral. If we try to stop them from racing in one area, they just move to another.

“So it is imperative that we give them an allocated space,” said Mahomed, who owns one of Pietermaritzburg’s fastest racing cars, a BMW E30 fitted with a 325 kW turbo-charged engine.

The vice-chairperson of the committee, Faheem Suliman, said while there had been no major accidents at the illegal races yet, there were several “fender-benders” that were “quickly cleaned up before police got to the scene”.

“We haven’t had anything serious yet, but the current situation is a time-bomb waiting to explode,” said Suliman.

Venues being mooted for the legal track include the road outside Makro in Camps Drift, Victoria Road between Retief and Boshoff Streets, Victoria Road near Winston Road, Mkondeni and Bishopstowe.

Michael Chetty, who hosts the Sidewayz Drifting races, said if given the go-ahead, the Pietermaritzburg drag racing club would be affiliated to Motorsport South Africa, the controlling body of all legal racing in the country.

Msunduzi council speaker Baboo Baijoo said he hoped to accelerate the process.

“The municipality will not be able to commit a monetary figure to drag racing, but we will come to the party with the provision of land and services,” he said.

Baijoo added that Pietermaritzburg was already known as a sporting capital, and having a legal drag-racing venue would add a further feather in the city’s cap.

“This can only augur well for business in Pietermaritzburg, as with the drag racing comes the car repairs, the need for automotive spares and parts.”

Attempts to reach municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma were unsuccessful.

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