A video captured by a spectator of a car sliding at a blocked intersection by U.S. Highway 75 while a passenger hangs out the side window holding a flag.
YOU CAN HEAR IT FROM MILES AWAY.
Engines roaring, tires screeching and spewing clouds of smoke, spectators yelling and cheering. Sometimes fireworks and gunshots ring out.
Reports of street racing from the Dallas Police Department (DPD) shot up in 2020 — from 4,867 in 2019 to 8,441 — and 911 calls related to speeding and racing have increased every year since 2016. Metrics from the first part of 2021 show no signs of reports decreasing.
“Tuesday night (Jan. 26), from 9:35 (p.m.) ’til 1:30 (a.m.), there were 11 incidents (of reckless driving) in my district,” says Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates. “The officers, they made five arrests, four for illegal spectating, and they gave another eight citations … had seven total stops … and then two vehicles were towed. That was just Tuesday night.”
Street racing and car stunts are by no means new phenomena, but last year, intersection takeovers, excessive speeding and extremely loud vehicles started to infiltrate the downtown area. People noticed the problem, and DPD patrols increased; lane reductions at key intersections and temporary stop signs were also implemented to calm traffic.
“Curbing street racing in the city became a priority, and it worked,” says Councilman Chad West. “But since it worked, it got pushed to the neighborhoods.”
The DPD’s limited resources mean officers find it hard to keep up. West says on any given weekend, there are anywhere from 1,000-2,000 street racers in the city, but only 800-1,000 officers on patrol.
Also hampering the DPD is a strict policy on high-speed pursuit that was revised in 2011 after the determination that high-speed chases, often over misdemeanor offenses, result in increased injuries and deaths. Now, officers can only engage in pursuit when they can identify a threat of physical force or violence.
And like almost every other aspect of life, the pandemic has played a part.
“I do think the isolation, the COVID quarantine has contributed to it,” Staubach Gates says. “Especially the youth that are involved, because there are just less activities. There are less organized activities for anybody.”
At points, crashes related to racing and drifting in intersections have resulted in property damage, injury and even death for both participants and bystanders. Recently, Preston Hollow resident Marybeth Ruchlin took a video of cars doing donuts at Preston Road and Northwest Highway. In the video, a truck crashes into a pole that explodes in a white flash.
“The races are becoming bolder and more reckless … it’s just a matter of time before they increase their recklessness and someone dies.”
Preston Hollow resident Jessica Shaw says these types of events happen virtually every weekend.
“The races are becoming bolder and more reckless,” Shaw says. “Beyond the frustration from the lack of sleep and infrastructure damage, it’s just a matter of time before they increase their recklessness and someone dies.”
Preston Hollow resident Marybeth Ruchlin’s video shows the moment a truck spins out of control and strikes an electric pole, causing an explosion.
Racing vs. takeovers
Labeling it all as “street racing” is an oversimplification. “There’s actual street racing, and then there’s the parking lot takeovers, highway-takeover group,” says a professional hot rod shop manager who did not want his name used.
The shop manager was into cars when he was a kid, but he first became involved with street racing when he was a teenager.
“I used to go out with my friend’s dad,” he says. “We’d go out to the track, and then after, go out to the street and try to find street races.”
The shop manager says street races originally happened in a controlled environment, off the main roads and usually late at night. He became serious about racing when he turned 16 and had his own car.
“That’s what I would spend my money on,” he says. “I’ve done every aspect of it: the paint, chassis, motors, interior.”
To him, street racing is nothing like the intersection takeovers.
“That’s more of a gathering of people with cars, and those are the ones that end up giving everyone a bad name. Those are the ones that are out of control,” he says.
The takeovers (also known as slideshows) involve cars blocking an intersection or parking lot. The events attract people mostly under the age of 25. Drivers swing cars around in circles, burning rubber and often coming close to spectators. These events tend to draw larger crowds.
Spectators cluster together while a car spins around them at high speed during a takeover at Noel and Spring Valley.
A Lake Highlands resident who sometimes goes to takeovers tells a different story.
“They don’t let just anyone go in the pit (the middle of the group, where drivers do donuts),” says the neighbor. He also did not want to be identified. “It’s only extremely good drivers. They go and practice all the time,” he said.
He stumbled across his first takeover by accident, when he was out late one night.
“I was curious about it, so I looked on social media, and I saw some accounts. You have to message proof that you saw street racing, or something that proves you’re not gonna rat them out to get in some groups,” he says. “I’m not a car guy myself. I just get bored and want to go watch it.”
Takeovers are typically organized on social media. Private Instagram accounts, like the one the neighbor joined, post scheduled events, and people can communicate through direct messaging about which cars will block off which streets and who will be posted where to watch for police.
A car throws out a cloud of smoke while spinning out. Street racing is currently a priority two call, which means a 12-minute response time for officers to get to the scene.
“It’s organized. It’s also widespread,” Staubach Gates says. “Those initiatives to try to get intel related to how they’re communicating through social media is definitely a way to try to stop it before it happens.”
“Even if we focused every officer, we cannot police our way out of it. We have to come up with other solutions.”
Since DPD reporting doesn’t differentiate between street racing and sliding, it’s hard to say which is more prevalent or more dangerous.
Taken together, though, reckless driving has taken over Dallas. In a recent public safety town hall meeting, assistant city manager for public safety Jon Fortune said citywide in 2020, DPD issued more than 4,000 hazardous citations, 10,000 regular citations and 600 spectator citations and made more than 1,200 arrests related to reckless driving. Police towed nearly 700 vehicles and recovered 34 stolen vehicles during that period.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think it has had much impact, because we continue to see it throughout the city,” Staubach Gates says.
With the DPD’s policy on pursuit, drivers typically aren’t caught. Even when they are, they face relatively low fines. While their vehicles are impounded, the perpetrators have to be convicted for their cars to be seized, and it can take multiple convictions for that to happen.
Staubach Gates and other city lawmakers want state legislators to change laws so cities can more easily seize cars and punish offenders.
“They’re expensive cars, and we’re hoping that if the punishment becomes severe enough that it will potentially curtail some of the activity,” she says.
Still, some of the issue goes back to the disparity between the number of offenders and the number of police officers on call on a given night.
“Even if we focused every officer, we cannot police our way out of it,” Councilman West says. “We have to come up with other solutions.”
The shop manager and the neighbor agree street racing and sliding come with unavoidable risks. A solution they both propose is finding a space where people can do it more safely.
That’s a view shared by Ricardo Anderson, a self-identified swinger. Anderson sent an email to Councilman David Blewett last year asking for the City’s help in creating a “special spot” to get swingers off the streets.
“Trust me, we getting tired of running from y’all,” he wrote. “Us swingers want to be safe as well, left alone in peace… we previously had a secret spot that DPD found and decided to raid it a few months back… we just want our spot back.”
“Giving juveniles an opportunity to experience risk in a healthy environment … we are lacking that.”
There’s a petition on Change.org from TSNLS Dallas, an Instagram account that posts videos of street racing, requesting “a legal lot to slide so NOBODY gets hurt.” The petition had 1,501 signatures as of late February.
In theory, designating a spot where people can race and slide without endangering residents sounds promising, but endorsing a space like that is problematic for the City from a liability standpoint, Blewett says.
Staubach Gates sees some merit to the idea, but she doesn’t think creating a space would be a cure-all.
“I think some of the thrill of it is that it’s risky and that it is illegal. I understand that there’s a lot of juveniles involved, and I think we all can recognize that when you’re going through your juvenile years, there’s a propensity to want to engage in risky behavior,” she says. “Giving juveniles an opportunity to experience risk in a healthy environment is really, we are lacking that. But taking the step that we need to give these racers a location … I just don’t think that’s government’s role.”
Even if designating a spot relieves the problem, there’s no immediate relief.
One strategy that has had some success was implemented on Lower Greenville, where the street was reduced from four lanes to two. The average speed on Greenville Avenue dropped by about 15 mph, and all crimes fell by 80%.
Road dieting, another term for lane reduction, was also temporarily implemented in Oak Cliff along Hampton Road, a popular thoroughfare that sees excessive speeding and intersection takeovers. Using traffic cones, the six-lane road was reduced to four lanes on the weekends, which pushed traffic together and effectively slowed drivers. With the road diet, Hampton saw about a 75% decrease in 911 calls related to street blockage and a 65% decrease in calls related to street racing.
Traffic calming via road diet has worked in some areas to decrease street racing and intersection takeovers, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all.
“Most of the intersections where it’s happening in (my district), there’s not really that opportunity,” Staubach Gates says. “(Deputy Chief Rick Watson of DPD’s West Division) has looked for it, but I don’t think they’ve identified areas where they could utilize that.”
“We’re trying, and we’re experimenting in different parts of the City to see which (strategy) works where,” said Ghassan Khankarli, assistant director of the transportation department, in a recent meeting about racing on Skillman Street.
“One treatment in one area works, but it might not work in another area, or we might need a hybrid. We’re trying to come up with the best solutions.”
You can report street racing by calling 911 or on the City’s 911 iWatchDallas app.