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Editorial: ABQ right to slam brakes on street-racing crowds

Illegal street racing is a serious public safety issue in Albuquerque. And the innocents who die horrible deaths in the name of someone else’s idea of “fun” make for shocking statistics.

In 2016, a street racer driving 85 mph on I-25 in Albuquerque rear-ended another vehicle and killed a 10-year-old girl. And in late-September 2018, two Santa Fe men were charged in the death of a local motorcyclist after their illegal street race led to a rear-ending.

It is worth noting that in Los Angeles County, considered the epicenter of the high-speed car culture, from 2000-17 a conservative estimate of at least 179 people were killed in accidents where street racing was suspected. The dead were overwhelmingly male and young. More than half were 21 or younger. Just under half of the total were behind the wheel; the remainder were either passengers, spectators or people simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, walking on the sidewalk or driving home.

And it was the particular group of people who get their kicks by watching these illegal races that was the impetus for Albuquerque’s recent decision to make being a spectator at an illegal street race a crime. Well that, and the “Fast and Furious”-like racing near Balloon Fiesta Park that Councilor Brad Winter recently witnessed, something other councilors have seen in their districts, as well.

Yes, the Albuquerque Police Department has plenty to do beyond ticketing people for standing around. But APD leaders say this would help them tackle the issue from a new angle, as they do not chase racers because it escalates the safety hazard. And Councilor Don Harris points out the spectators are “not just merely standing around doing something innocent; you’re encouraging someone to do something which is definitely dangerous. It’s not morally neutral behavior.”

Apart from being in real danger, a secondary but no less important reason to try to keep such crowds away is they can prevent police and rescue from reaching the scene of any accident that may occur.

The official punishment for street racing in New Mexico is up to 180 days in jail or a fine of up to $2,000, as well as having the vehicle impounded and watching insurance rates rise. The proposed spectator penalty would be a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine or 90 days in jail.

Albuquerque streets, like their counterparts elsewhere, are designed to move traffic safely at posted speed limits. While Councilor Cynthia Borrego is concerned, citing spectators “creates an ‘us vs. them’ situation with our youth,” she should be more worried about the lives damaged or lost by what Councilor Isaac Benton calls “an issue of rampant lawlessness and that breeds something worse.”

Racing on our streets – and the crowds who gather to watch it – are a dangerous proposition, and the City Council is right to do what it can to slam the brakes on it and the number of needless injuries and deaths it causes.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.