By Katrina Milbocker
A flash of headlights, the smell of burning rubber, the screech of brakes, the pop of airbags, and suddenly pain followed by silence. The split second decision made by teenagers nation-wide to street race proves to be a death sentence. Those who survive the accident are confronted with legal, physical, and emotional damage that is enough to alter their lives forever.
Teenagers commonly know street racing as “drag racing” as it is affiliated with the legal sport of drag racing. Both the illegal and legal racing is done at very high speeds for a short distance.
According to Cheryl Cassie, a Driver’s Education instructor at Cassie’s Driving School, street racing is, “when you have two people side by side intentionally racing.” The problem is that, “it’s a big game to everybody and the kids, they think they’re invincible.”
Cassie described how street racing results from friends “egging each other on.” After all, “it’s not an accident, it’s a choice.” Teenagers are allowed to get their license at such a young age some do not realize it is now their responsibility to drive safely.
Although there are strict penalties for street racing with a Junior Operator License (J.O.L.) such as, “hefty fines and losing your license,” new ways of teaching Driver’s Ed. have been instituted to help prevent accidents linked to this fatal form of racing. “The new ways of teaching Driver’s Ed are basically that we touch base a lot on drag racing and the impact,” said Cassie. “Drag racing is a criminal offense” and unfortunately, “there’s always a victim.”
Holliston High School (H.H.S.) junior, Ryan McGee went to Cassie’s Driving School for Driver’s Ed. and said, “We learned that for a J.O.L. the punishments are extremely strict when it comes to disobeying the law.” He said his biggest fear was getting his license taken away and the freedom that comes with having a license.
Unfortunately Driver Education instructors feel, “there’s only so much we can do in Driver’s Ed on these things. The movies, the notes, the real life stories don’t apply to [teenagers]. They all feel they’re invincible.”
But the statistics prove otherwise. In an article in the “San Angelo Standard Times,” and according to the National Traffic Safety Administration, “Between 2001 and 2006, 804 fatalities have been attributed to street racing.”
According to the Illegal Racing Stats on nhra.net, “Nationwide statistics show that 49 people are injured for every 1,000 who participate in illegal street racing.” The “San Angelo Standard Times” pointed out that, “perhaps surprisingly, teens themselves rank street racing as one of the most risky in a slate of driving practices that lead to crashes, injuries, and, too often, deaths.”
Scientists have found that differences in the structure of the brain between males and females prove that young males often get into higher risk car crashes than females. As verified in scientific studies noted on his website on the mind and behavior of the brain, Renato Sabbatini, PhD noted, “One of the most interesting differences [in the brains of males and females] appear in the way men and women estimate time [and] judge speed of things.” Due to the development of the brain, teenage males have a history of making poorer decisions than teenage females.
Detective David Gatchell, the former School Resources Officer, added,”I think young men have an appetite to better themselves [in front of] their peers. It’s more of a competition especially when it involves cars.”
Even the illegal aspect of street racing does not keep teenagers from partaking in such an activity. So what aspect of street racing has an effect on those who choose not to race? McGee commented that, “saying something is illegal doesn’t mean anything…but as soon as it effects another person, that’s a problem.” He went on to say that, “It bothers me that one person’s irresponsibility can basically ruin or end some innocent person’s life.” Street racing becomes a problem when strangers are affected by other drivers, “not being smart” and “looking for a thrill.”
McGee talked about an experience he had while being a passenger in a car that was going “extremely fast” and said, “I think it’s scarier to be a passenger than the one driving because then you have no control over your life.” The driver who loses control of the vehicle is not the only one affected by the resulting crash.
If a teen lives after an accident caused by street racing, the consequences for a Junior Operator are numerous and aimed to prevent future bad decisions. The Massachusetts law against street racing states that, “no person shall operate a motor vehicle, nor shall any owner of such vehicle permit it to be operated, in a manner where the owner or operator accelerates at a high rate of speed in competition with another operator, whether or not there is an agreement to race, causing increased noise from skidding tires and amplified noise from racing engines.”
Detective Gatchell clarified that, “a lot of people think that you have to have an agreement [to race with someone], but you don’t.”
Although most serious car accidents lead to the breaking of bones there are many other injuries that can be caused. Internal and uncontrollable external bleeding can be a cause of death after the accident itself. Injuries to the brain are common and can result in memory loss and problems with the senses. Paralysis, amputation, and comas can be the worst case scenarios of a crash. In the end, what type of life is this?
The physical consequences that most have to deal with can change their lives. In, “most of the drag racing incidents, the person has to get pulled out of the car,” said Cassie. Although this is explained to students in Driver’s Ed. classes, most teens think, “it won’t happen to them.”
What most teenagers do not consider before racing are the psychological damages done to the innocent victims in a street racing accident. Often times, victims that survive will never be able to drive again in fear that they will be hit a second time by a reckless driver. After such a traumatic experience, “are they able to sleep at night?” Unfortunately, “‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t bring them back to how they used to be,” said Cassie.
“I don’t think it’s getting through to them fully ‘cause they’re still doing it,” Cassie continued. She explained how the real life videos and a visit from a professional at the Brain Association impacted the kids while learning about the dangers of street racing in Driver’s Ed., but in the end it is that, “split second decision.”
Offering up a solution to help prevent street racing Cassie said, “Maybe if everyone in the car gets charged then maybe it will eliminate the kids egging each other on.”
Would the number of teenagers partaking in street racing decrease if all the passengers caught in a racing car got their licenses taken away as a punishment?
“Unfortunately I think the only real way for it to be known as an issue is when someone they know has been injured or been in an accident because of it,” said McGee.