Illegal street racers may soon be without wheels if JP Smith gets his way

2019-01-27 06:40
City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

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Caught street racing illegally? Western Cape provincial traffic authorities could soon be able to impound your car.

The Western Cape Provincial Road Traffic Administration Amendment Bill could see speedsters' wheels being confiscated permanently or for the duration of their reckless and negligent driving trial should a proposal from the City of Cape Town's mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, be accepted.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority, motorists found guilty of reckless driving can be sentenced to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding six years. Conviction for negligence carries a maximum prison term of three years.

Smith is not convinced this punishment is harsh enough.

"The sentences imposed often amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, which does little to change behaviour as the consequences are not dire enough."

Ideally, he argued, the perpetrator's vehicle would be forfeited.

Problem areas identified

While this was common practice in other countries, this is not considered constitutional, Smith explained.

The alternative would be to seize the car as evidence for the duration of the trial.

According to Smith, often drag racers – who upon arrest are charged with reckless and negligent driving, as well as taking part in an illegal street race on a public road without the permission of the Western Cape transport MEC – continue with their activities while their trial is underway.

On Monday alleged street racer Taufiq Carr lost control of his BMW M3 and crashed on the N1 near the Sable Road turnoff near Century City.

READ: Horror BMW crash: No accident report, say police

In the footage, the luxury car can be seen changing lanes at high speed, before ramming into the centre median.

The highway is among the City's busiest illegal street race hotspots, Smith said, along with the N7, Klipfontein Road and Strandfontein Road in Ottery.

Other problem areas include Atlantis/Mamre, Athlone/Ottery/Manenberg, Bothasig, Plattekloof/Century City, Sea Point/Green Point, Mitchells Plain, Eerste River, Table View and Durbanville.

"Participants will gather a few times a week or move locations if the traffic service's ghost squad disrupts their activities too often," Smith said.

Tip-offs from the public, however, allow officers to respond quickly, and to identify hotspots.

Need for 'behavioural change'

Weekly operations are held to disrupt illegal races, while proactive patrols are conducted at known racing stretches.

"I think it is fair to say that we have had some impact with our sustained awareness and communication campaigns around this issue. We now see an average of 300 racers who participate weekly in the robot racing event at Killarney Raceway – a joint venture between Killarney and the City that was started in 2016.

"That said, the continued fascination with vehicle modifications and speed in many parts of our city means that it is an ongoing battle for our enforcement services. Ultimately, a behavioural change is the only effective measure," said Smith.

"Even if we devote all of our enforcement resources to curbing the problem, odds are we will not be able to stem the tide given Cape Town's extensive road network."

A number of measures to tackle illegal street racing have been introduced in the last decade, Smith said.

They include the use of high-powered, unmarked vehicles, and the introduction of dash cams to help gather evidence.

On one occasion, Smith said he was contacted by a Cape Town mother who had bought her son a Golf GTI and suspected he had been street racing.

A photo of the young man's car was circulated among traffic officials who indeed recognised it, despite the driver denying any involvement.

"Many of these transgressions are the result of bad behaviour and poor decisions/choices of the individuals involved. Until we are able to effect a change in mindset and also ensure that the punishment meets the crime, illegal street racers and others who break the rules of the road will continue behaving the way they do."

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