Every couple of months, the topic of crushing the cars of 'hoons' comes up. The latest is from our local pioneers of chequebook tabloidism, 60 Minutes, who are covering the street racing scene in Los Angeles and think that it directly parallels Australia.
The premise being pushed by 60 Minutes is that people who engage in illegal street racing should have their cars confiscated, crushed in front of them, and possibly uploaded to YouTube as a deterrent. The notion has found a cheer-squad here after Los Angeles started doing it last year, with apparent success.
Before I continue, I'm going to say that I have nothing but contempt for people who race on the streets. Its the kind of 'Darwin Award' stupidity that would surely have the great man wanting to rise from the grave to go postal - let's face it, race track speeds on city and suburban streets is just plain dumb. It puts ordinary people just going about their business at serious risk.
On the actual car-crushing penalty itself, is it only me or does someone else also see what's wrong with the 60 Minutes line?
To help you here, let me break down the type of person we're talking about when we talk about street 'racers'. For the most part they:
- Drive high powered cars
- Show no respect for road rules
- Have no consideration for the safety of the public
- Attempt to flee when police arrive
- Apparently "love their cars more than human life" (thank you 60 Minutes)
- Care more about their cars than about fines or other penalties
- Think they're indestructible
This is the type of person the government and the police want to pull over, drag out of the car, and then have them watch as their pride and joy is despatched to the crusher. The standard tune behind the logic, sung with gusto by the LA Police in that 60 Minutes interview, is that they need to make the penalty harsh enough to discourage "these reckless hoons" from starting.
My concern is that this kind of penalty is going to discourage reckless hoons from stopping.
Racing has been around since there were two people on the planet. The first Olympics featured foot races, and you can bet your left nut that people did it outside the official arena. As soon as people domesticated more than one horse, you can guarantee the two owners lined them up side by side. Then when someone decided to stick a plank and some wheels behind the horse and made a chariot, they ended up racing them in the Colosseum, and, you can bet on it, around the streets of Rome.
In 100 years of motoring, there's been 100 years of racing. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about the old school classic hot rod racers or the high tech Fast and Furious import racers of today, you keep putting drivers near each other and inevitably someone is going to see if they're faster than the other.
Changing millennia of ingrained culture is going to take a lot of time, and a long and slow process of shifting societal norms. By trying to force the pace through a harsh crackdown - seen as excessively harsh by the perpetrators - you've now given these flyboys an even bigger reason to not 'go quietly'.
If a car-obsessed hoon knows that the cops are going to crush their car, why not take the adrenaline rush to the next level and race the cops? (And remember, these guys think they're invincible.) The choice of possiblycrashing their car, or definitely getting it crushed, is not a dilemma they're going to spend more than a few panic-accelerated heartbeats pondering. Some chance of keeping their car is better than no chance at all. So, they'll bolt.
This isn't just wild speculation on my part. These are the rants coming from the internet forums following the enactment of the new legislation. While a lot of it is going to be bluster, there are going to be quite a few that will try it on for real.
So what we're going to get are a whole bunch of "high speed pursuits", which is a euphemism for a street race involving a police car. Rather than backing off at the quarter mile mark for the winner to take "the respect", the end point for these street races will now be when the "hoon" escapes the police and is therefore never brought to justice, or when they crash and potentially injure innocent bystanders. That's a much longer race, and going to endanger far more people.
I find it quite laughable that the NSW Police Minister, David Campbell, is considering the proposal but is cautious of a knee-jerk reaction. The only reaction I considered was kneeing the jerk who came up with this dim-witted idea. A ten year-old could see the glaring flaws in the proposal.
Something has to be done about street racing, I will agree. Prevention is better than a cure, so stopping street racing rather than mitigating its effects is a better long term goal. However, the two need to be done in conjunction. Car crushing isn't the answer. It will only fan the flames.
I'll freely admit that I don't have the answer to this one. But just because I don't know what the right course is, doesn't mean I don't know when we're heading the wrong way. Someone just needs to turn to the media and government/law enforcement, slap them upside the head, and say, "Stop talking shit. Stop wasting time on stupid suggestions and focus on coming up with something that won't make things worse."