City shifts into high gear to curb unprecedented levels of street racing

Ellia Pannier, El Inde Arizona

City talks solutions for unprecedented levels of street racing, opening the discussion with speeding enforcement cameras.  

The sound of revving engines and tires screeching against the asphalt has become a recurring problem throughout Tucson as street racing is at an all-time high in some Tucson neighborhoods.

Tucson City Council Member Nikki Lee, who represents Ward 4, wants to see it end.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, she and her fellow council members met to discuss possible solutions to address the escalating problem of illegal street racing including installing automated speed enforcement cameras.

The council didn’t reach any conclusions Tuesday but agreed to reconvene in 45 days to propose solutions. 

Lee brought up the issue of illegal street racing at Tuesday’s meeting after residents complained about speeding and street racing along Houghton Road. Recent road improvements and expansions along Houghton have apparently made the stretch ideal for racing.

Tucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar told council members that speeding has become a bigger issue since the pandemic, when police relaxed speeding enforcement. 

“There weren’t a lot of consequences to just people being reasonable human beings and obeying traffic laws,” he said.

That so-called toxic car culture quickly led to an increase in reckless speeding and disruptive midnight drag racing, with street takeovers where racers block off all directions of an intersection so they can do dangerous stunts. Kasmar said those events attract criminal and life-threatening consequences. 

In August 2022, Tucson police received 55 calls about street racing and gunfire along Kolb Road in what the callers described as “large street takeovers,” according to a report in the Arizona Daily Star. A month later, in September 2022, police arrested 124 adults and 53 juveniles in a special operation targeting illegal street racing, the Star reported. 

Chief Kasmar said street takeovers are designed by organized racing groups that use social media to remain anonymous. The social media platforms attract younger people to the takeovers, the chief said.     

“This is such a timely conversation because we are trending again this year to set another traffic fatality high number,” Kasmar told the council. “These types of driving behaviors, including a recent drag racing fatality, are just proof that what we’re doing is not enough and we need help.”

Lee pointed to the City of Seattle’s recent plan to combat illegal street racing and unsafe driving with speed cameras and creating designated no-racing zones. 

Lee consulted Tucson Police and the City Attorney’s Office to ensure that the use of cameras would align with what voters endorsed in 2015 under Proposition 201, which outlawed the use of red light cameras. 

Other ideas bounced around by the council included impounding offenders’ vehicles, targeting drivers’ insurance and constructing preventative road designs to deter speeding.

El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.

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