The KwaZulu-Natal Transport Department is concerned about illegal drag racing in the province, and has formed a special task force to deal with the issue.

The task force will begin operating from this weekend, and will operate between Durban and Maritzburg. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport’s Chief Director of Public Safety and Communication, Thabang Chiloane, told CARtoday.com that illegal racing was widespread – and not only in Durban. Areas such as Maritzburg, Port Shepstone, Ladysmith and Newcastle also had illegal races.

Drag racers in Durban have said they have no choice but to have illegal races, as there is no venue for them to enjoy their sport legally. But the transport department says it will not tolerate illegal racing on public roads, as innocent people’s lives are endangered. They have advised the racers to formalise their own sport and apply for a legal venue.

“They are interested in this sport, so it’s up to them to formalise it and control it,” said Logan Maistry, deputy director of communications for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport.

Clampdown

“The Durban Metro Police has come up with plans to clamp down on the illegal races, but these guys are quite clued up, and get a signal that the police are on their way,” said Maistry.

Chiloane said they believed that tow-truck operators ensured the drag racers were not caught. “The tow-truck drivers also take part in the races as they also have modified trucks. They scan police frequencies and can then change the location before the police can get there. The races are normally held on public roads in the early hours of the morning. After choosing a stretch of road, the organisers alert the other racers and tell them where and when the contest is taking place. They also have a backup location in case the police find out where they are,” he said.

“It is dangerous, as the cars are not fitted with anti-roll bars and some are fuelled by nitrous-oxide, which is highly explosive. These factors make the cars dangerous for them, the spectators and other people who happen to use the road when they are racing,” said Chiloane.

‘They have to catch us first’

One of the draggers participating in the illegal races, who asked not to be named, said he did not see the need for the formation of the task force. “It’s rubbish. There is no need for this. Why don’t they spend the money wisely and go after the unroadworthy taxis?

“Yes, we have had accidents at the races, but, compared to the number of accidents on the roads every day and the number of unroadworthy taxis putting so many lives at risk, the number of street racingh incidents is lower. We are aware that what we are doing is dangerous and, therefore, we are more careful when we race.

“They are going after us, but our cars are roadworthy and well-looked after – and certainly in better condition than the taxis. In town, I see cars driving badly and so many unroadworthy vehicles.

“Why do they not go after them, because they are driving around in normal hours and putting many lives at risk. We also race in the early hours of the morning when there are very few other vehicles on the road.

“Besides, we do not have a choice because there is no legal venue in Durban. We do go to the legal races in Margate, but we need a venue in Durban,” said the racer.

Another street racer, called Anesh, said he was a little concerned about a task force being formed, but didn’t think many racers would be arrested. “They have to catch us first if they can, and the police have really slow cars,” he said. “They also have to know where we are first.”

But Anesh said the clampdown would lead to problems. “We now have smaller races and not big open events that everyone knows about. What happens now is that spectators now have to find us, and they race around like jackasses and drive like jackasses and that’s how accidents occur.

“I would say about 90 per cent of the accidents related to street racing are spectator accidents, and 10 per cent are ours. The spectators are trying to keep up with us and they speed. I have been in drag racing for 10 years, and you have to know how to race first before you do this.”

Anesh confirmed that the tow-truck operators do keep them informed of police activity. “We usually have six or seven venues planned for one night. We then race for 30 minutes to an hour at each venue and move on,” he said.

He said he raced a normally-aspirated car and preferred it to a turbo or nitrous-oxide-charged car. “NOS only allows you to go really fast for a short distance, and cannot maintain the speed. It works for quarter-mile races, but not the longer distances. I can usually catch up with those cars,” he said.

Anesh said nitrous-oxide would cost about R8 000 to install, while turbo-charging your vehicle would amount to anything up to R30 000.

Stiff penalties

Maistry said the MEC for transport in the area, S’bu Ndebele, was concerned about illegal racing and wanted offenders prosecuted.

Maistry said they had met with the public prosecutor and would like stiff penalties meted out in order to discourage the illegal racing.

If an illegal drag racer is caught, he/she could be charged with:

a. Reckless or negligent driving and arrested immediately

b. Driving at an excessive speed, for which there is also no admission of guilt

c. If the vehicle is fuelled by NOS, the car is impounded.

d. And (if found to be drunk) driving under the influence and arrested.

Maistry said he did not know if offering a legal venue would stop the illegal races. “But, at the end of the day, we do not want them to say the traffic police did not do anything and forced them to race on public roads,” said Maistry.

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