Drivers are show-offs looking for an audience

An undeclared war has broken out between police, mostly traffic police, and the organizers and participants of drag races along main streets, involving both cars and motorcycles. Surveillance, patrols by police and unmarked vehicles, roadblocks, pursuit, arrests and seizures of vehicles are part of a coordinated effort to wipe out impromptu drag races along central avenues around Attica. Drag races are not a recent phenomenon by any means. Attica Traffic Police chief Brigadier Nikos Davillas told Kathimerini that they began in the early 1970s and really took off during the 1980s. Efforts to curb the practice were usually restricted to traffic police departments in the areas where races were held, so all the drivers had to do was move the race somewhere else, whether to Aegaleo, Nea Ionia, Nea Philadelphia, Schistos or the Saronic Gulf coastal road. Favorite «tracks» these days are the Limanakia area of Vouliagmeni, Athinon Avenue in Haidari and the Athens-Lamia highway at the Kifissia traffic lights. These are to be the focus of the police operation. Road safety Davillas says the problem is particularly serious as it affects road safety and noise levels. The cars weave among ordinary traffic way above the speed limits, putting everyone’s lives in danger. Noise from the souped-up engines and exhaust pipes disturb the peace, not to mention the nuisance caused by the hundreds of people who come to watch. The infringements of the traffic code in these cases are classified as misdemeanors and are not therefore subject to very strict penalties, said Davillas. So, where possible, in cooperation with the judicial authorities, Article 290 of the penal code on obstructing transport is invoked, permitting the confiscation of the vehicles used in the races. This has proved a very effective measure, particularly considering the high costs of converting the engines in these cars, as well as the special external features favored by some drivers. Vehicle owners are required by law to declare any alterations to the transport authorities in order to obtain registration, but this is done by very few. Davillas said the drivers choose main roads for their races out of exhibitionism, encouraged by large crowds of spectators. «These people want to show off their car’s horsepower as well as their own driving skills. The more spectators there are, the greater the provocation,» said Davillas. Then there are the reports of illegal betting, ranging from bets between two drivers meeting at a traffic light as to who will be first to the next one, to reports of Internet betting sites. In order to discourage people from attending the races, traffic police often make them the focus of their raids, removing license plates from any illegally parked cars in the area. The recent police campaign is to be stepped up as summer approaches, when the races become a more frequent occurrence and attract even larger crowds of spectators, some of whom come in from country towns. Davillas calls the phenomenon a «blight on society» that requires a coordinated effort to wipe out. «It is not enough to chase them away from the areas they now frequent. We will follow them wherever they go. It is not a question of isolated actions by traffic police, but by all the police services. We might even need to call in the riot squad for a more effective roadblock.»

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