NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 12, 2013

Curbing our local drag racers

Anyone who regularly commutes on Interstates 95 or 495 has no doubt encountered one of these lunatic “drag races” that occur every so often in the summer months.

Invariably, it’s young men who think the traffic-filled highway is the perfect place to play out a video game fantasy, weaving in and out of traffic at speeds of 90 mph or more. Unlike a video game, the stakes and lives on the highway are real.

State police have announced they plan to step up patrols along our local highways in an effort to end high-speed races, and also plan to lobby Beacon Hill lawmakers to make the penalties tougher. Both initiatives are a much-needed public service. We hope our state lawmakers will give this their full attention.

These races are often spontaneous, with two drivers eyeing each other and suddenly starting a race. But in some cases, they are highly coordinated, with the racers designated in advance, a car designated to film the race and another to act as a “spotter” to watch for police.

Several arrests have been made by police in the past few months. The charged drivers come from a variety of communities — Lewiston, Maine, Cambridge, Lawrence and Newburyport. They are all young men who played chicken with other people’s lives.

There are few things more frightening than young men in souped-up cars careening in and out of traffic at high speeds, with little or no regard for the chaos and anxiety that they leave in their wake. It’s not uncommon for these would-be racers to fly up the breakdown lane, startling motorists and greatly increasing the chance of a catastrophic accident.

The current maximum penalty for racing on the highway is 21/2 years, according to Newbury state police barracks Cmdr. Paul Zipper. He’d like to see the penalties increased. That makes sense. The potential for a deadly accident that takes the lives of innocent victims is high. There needs to be a sobering deterrent.

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