The war on street racers isn't working

opinion August 21, 2014 01:00

By The Nation

Young daredevils who endanger lives on our roads need to be weaned off the habit

Police are revving up for another crackdown on illegal street racing after the problem was mentioned by the junta chief during his weekly “Returning Happiness” televised address to the nation. Previous harsh measures and occasional waves of arrests have done little to deter the mostly young daredevil racers. Bangkok streets still ring with the roar of their engines almost nightly.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the ruling National Counter for Peace and Order (NCPO), said in his weekly address last Friday that street racing was undermining the country and widely loathed. He called on police to take rigorous action against the bikers. 
His remarks came in the wake of an uproar this month among social-media users over night-time street racing on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, close to the Democracy Monument. Though the ad hoc racetrack was just a few minutes’ drive from the nearest police stations, the racing carried on undisturbed. Netizens even released a video clip of the racing, with no policemen to be seen. 
Noise from motorcycle street racing was the top gripe among 40,000 complaints that members of the public have filed since the coup of May 22, says the Public Service Centre at Government House.
For many youngsters, street racing now has the status of a subculture. A night-time gathering can attract hundreds of racers and an “audience” at least twice that size, the swarm especially thick at weekends or on public holidays. The attraction for racers is twofold: the thrill of violating the law and the adrenaline that comes with risking their lives on speeding machines. But there’s a big downside: they also endanger the lives of law-abiding road users, occupy the time of emergency services and officials, and burden the health service when they need treatment for often-serious injuries sustained while racing.
Police have vowed a three-pronged approach, using laws covering traffic, child protection and industrial products to tackle the problem. The target for prosecution will thus be widened from the young street racers themselves to their parents and the motorbike-modification shops that own the vehicles involved. If strictly enforced, the combined powers of those three laws should help reduce the problem.
However, tough measures and strict law enforcement won’t deter every thrill-seeker. One former biker has said he felt “invincible” and “fully liberated” while racing on the road. He stopped doing it only after witnessing many of his fellow street racers seriously injured in “cruel and violent” police raids. He claimed that one police tactic was to throw wooden sticks or steel pipes into the spokes of the bikes’ wheels, causing the riders to crash. 
But, however harsh the measures, a hardened core of bike racers refuse to quit the streets. 
Psychiatrists have suggested that, as well as using the law, the problem should be tackled at its root cause – the attitude of the racers. Experts also emphasise the role of parents and advise them to keep an eye on their children and direct them toward more wholesome pursuits.
As part of this more “holistic” approach, street racers, particularly repeat offenders, should undergo therapy. Therapy programmes have in the past been successful in changing the attitude of some of the culprits and wooing them away from the practice. But we need more such programmes to help convince young bikers that there’s more to life than illegal and dangerous street racing.