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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Editorials

Toughen street-racing laws

Published:

Racing on public roads at speeds of 100 mph or more risks the lives of not just drivers but of anyone in the vicinity.

Yet the penalty for willfully endangering others is but a misdemeanor unless someone is seriously injured or killed.

State lawmakers need to put some steel in the law. Current penalties are no deterrent.

Tampa police officials say street racing has been a recurring problem for decades, with late-night races of both cars and motorcycles frequently held at bridges such as the Gandy and Courtney Campbell Causeway.

When police clamp down, the racers move to other roadways. But police know they will be back. Social media makes it easier to quickly organize a race, which sometimes attracts hundreds of spectators.

We suspect the “Fast and Furious” films glamorizing street racing haven’t helped, but there is nothing glamorous about commandeering a public road and putting innocent lives at risk.

Tragedy was narrowly averted last Sunday when police said a man racing on the Courtney Campbell Causeway almost hit a car not in the race. The racer lost control, hit a guardrail and smashed into a police car.

Tampa Police Sgt. Thomas Miller suffered minor injuries.

The driver was charged with racing and reckless driving, both misdemeanors.

According to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office, the racing offense can bring a year’s jail sentence and a $1,000 maximum fine. The reckless driving charge can bring 90 days in jail and up to $500 fine.

But misdemeanor offenses are unlikely to result in jail time, and even convictions in this extraordinarily dangerous activity usually bring modest penalties.

Racing belongs on race tracks, where citizens are protected.

Going 100 mph on public streets, which allows no margin of error for either the racer or passersby, seems to us more an act of violence than a traffic violation.

Lawmakers should consult with the police officers who deal with this persistent threat and toughen state laws, perhaps making racing above certain speeds a felony offense by itself.

It shouldn’t take a devastating injury or repeated convictions to raise the prospects of serious punishment for those who engage in this dangerous pursuit.

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