“Tonight, tonight the strip's just right, I want to blow 'em off in my first heat. Summer's here and the time is right for racin' in the street.”
-Racing in the Street | Bruce Springsteen
When Bruce Springsteen wrote that song in 1978, I doubt he envisioned a world where car crash fatalities were skyrocketing. Where street takeovers resulted in dramatic increases in serious injuries and, more recently, the loss of life. Los Angeles has grappled with an increase in street takeovers over the past several years, and police say 705 street takeovers were prevented or disrupted by the LAPD's Street Racing Task Force in 2022, a 44% increase from the same period in 2021. In the first 8 months of 2022, at least six people died during or near street takeovers in Los Angeles, according to a motion filed by several council members in August of that same year. And yet, the number of calls reporting illegal races and takeovers in South Los Angeles fell by 21.56% in 2022 versus 2021, according to the Los Angeles Police Commission.
The good news is police issued 700 citations and impounded 457 vehicles during street racing events, which are increases of 63% and 27%, respectively, from the year before. Also encouraging is the city council’s action to put in place traffic calming measures such as rumble strips and raised pavement markers as "effective and cost-efficient means of deterring intersection takeovers," along with "Slow Streets" designs.
And yet there is another challenge facing police, policy makers and our healthcare system as more victims of senseless, preventable car crashes make headlines every day in Los Angeles County. American muscle cars with high horsepower and a hot rod image rank among the deadliest vehicles on the road, both for their own drivers and for people in other vehicles, recent calculations by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show. Six of the 21 vehicles with the highest driver death rates for model year 2020 are variants of the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, and Ford Mustang, while eight others are small cars or minicars. Eighteen of the 23 vehicles with the lowest driver death rates are minivans or SUVs, and 12 are luxury vehicles.
Is it time the medical community work closer with the local automobile association, car dealers and even manufacturers to launch a joint education campaign targeting drivers, typically young males, so that they fully understand the magnitude of combining a machine built to go fast with reckless behavior? Is it time to issue a warning label on muscle cars? A course on safe driving post-purchase?
As a young man prior to a career in medicine, I was infatuated with Formula 1 racing and embarked on a career as a race car driver. Legal racing has always been and continues to be a passion of mine. I encourage legal and safe avenues to showcase driver skills in a safe environment but I am constantly reminded that the combination of a driver who might think they are skilled combined with a car with massive horsepower, after-market enhancements such as nitrous oxide, can be lethal. A warning may not sway someone from speeding recklessly, but a combination of police efforts, sound policy such as California Assembly Bill 74, which would give judges the ability to permanently seize cars used in street takeover, and the collective medical community coming together to save lives makes sense, now more than ever.
Omer Deen, MD, FACG, AGAF, CPNS
Immediate Past President, Los Angeles County Medical Association