Jaye Sanford, 52, a mother of two, was driving home in suburban Atlanta on November 21 when a man in a Dodge Challenger muscle car allegedly doing street races hit her in the head, killing her.
She is one of many victims of the surge in street racing that took hold across America during the coronavirus pandemic, sparking police crackdowns and bills aimed at tougher punishments.
Experts say TV shows and movies glorifying street racing have already garnered interest in recent years. Then, closures associated with the pandemic cleared normally clogged freeways as commuters worked from home.
Fans of fast cars have often had time to modify and show them off, said Tami Eggleston, a sports psychologist who participates in legal drag races.
“With COVID, when we were separated from people, I think people were kind of linked to their interest groups,” said Eggleston, who is also the principal of McKendree University, a small college in the suburbs. of Saint-Louis. “So that need to want to socialize and be around other people got runners out.”
But people have been killed as bundles of vehicles, from bloated jalopies to high-end sports cars, roaring through city streets and industrial districts.
Street runners block roads and even freeways to keep police away as they tear each other apart and perform stunts, often captured in videos that go viral. The roar of the engines and the traffic jams became huge problems.
Georgia is among the states fighting back with new laws.
Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill named after Sanford that imposes at least 10 days in jail for all drag racing convictions. It also obliges those convicted a third time within five years to confiscate their vehicle.
“This illegal activity is very dangerous,” the Republican governor said during a signing ceremony for the bill. “Our goal is simple: to protect every family in every community.”
In New York City, authorities received more than 1,000 drag racing complaints over six months last year, an increase of almost five times over the same period in 2019.
“Illegal street racing puts lives at risk and keeps us awake at night,” New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said. “Although there was less traffic during the pandemic, some drivers took the opportunity to treat our streets like a NASCAR expressway.”
The Democratic lawmaker introduced legislation that would allow New York City to operate its speed cameras overnight and on weekends in hot spots for illegal street racing. The Senate Transport Committee recently unanimously approved the measure, putting it in place for a vote on the ground.
In Mississippi, Republican Governor Tate Reeves enacted a bill in March to allow state soldiers to respond to incidents in cities. On New Years Eve, drivers blocked traffic on a freeway in Jackson, the state capital, for an hour as they spun around and made donuts, carving circles on the sidewalk.
Even though the highway patrol headquarters were nearby, soldiers could not respond as they were prohibited from handling incidents in towns of more than 15,000 people. This ban will be lifted when the new law comes into effect on July 1.
In Arizona, the state Senate passed a bill to impose tougher sentences. He is now waiting for a vote in the House. Under an order approved by Phoenix City Council in March, police can seize a car involved in street racing or reckless driving for 30 days.
Meanwhile, the death toll is climbing. On the night of May 2, a 28-year-old woman was killed in Phoenix when a street racer crashed into her car. A man was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.
Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have handed out thousands of speeding and running tickets since the crackdown began in October.
“Racing on our streets is so deadly, especially if more children, seniors, pedestrians and cyclists are outside during this pandemic,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.
Street racing in an industrial district of Portland, Oregon scares the people who work there. A motorcyclist was killed last month in an accident which police said apparently involved racing. On April 2, business owners wrote to the mayor and city commissioners asking them to take action.
After weekends of races and stunts, a road there and its 3.2 kilometers is immediately littered with containers of alcohol. Spray painted lines mark the start and finish lines. The car parks are marked by circular tire tracks or completely eroded in places by slipping tires.
Portland Police say they are too overwhelmed to do much about it.
“The city of Portland has seen a huge increase in our rate of shooting, a staggering amount of volatile protests, while our numbers have declined,” said Acting Lt. Michael Roberts, responsible for combating illegal street racing. “Often we don’t have the bandwidth to answer calls from street runners.”
Oddly, two police cars drove through a residential neighborhood in Washington, DC last month. They ended up crashing into each other. An officer was fired. The former officer and another officer, currently suspended, were charged last week with reckless driving and other traffic offenses, the Washington Post reported.
In Denver, police deployed a helicopter to track races, closed lanes often used by runners, and dispatched officers to places where runners meet. On April 3, a mother was killed when a street racer threw her car in downtown Denver.
In one of the most notorious incidents, hundreds of street runners obstructed a stretch of highway in nearby Aurora on March 7 as they ran and sailed. Police warned other motorists to stay away amid reports of brandished weapons and fireworks.
The events added urgency to a long-running Colorado State Patrol effort to attract street runners to a safer environment. The agency’s “Take it to the Track” program offers weekly contests at Bandimere Speedway, in the foothills west of Denver.
“You can bring out whatever you’ve got, whether it’s a supercar or a mum’s minivan, grandpa’s Buick,” rider Josh Lewis said on the circuit last week. “And you can race a cop, and do it legally.”
Lewis then beat a Toyota SUV on the quarter-mile track, hitting 142 km / h in his Dodge Charger.
Ray Propes, 58, started street racing at the age of 16 but now prefers Bandimere Speedway for its traction and safety.
“You don’t have to worry about accidents, animals, kids, birds, anything,” he said.
Associated Press reporters Thomas Peipert in Denver; Maria Villeneuve in Albany, New York; Emily Wagster in Jackson, Mississippi; Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Jonathan J. Cooper of Phoenix contributed to this report.