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Illegal Street Racing: An Examination of Causes

Chris loves automobiles and has maintained, repaired, and/or restored over a dozen of them in the last 15 years.


Illegal street racing is a growing trend, and has been since the advent of the automobile, but in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of street races. There are several possible causes for this trend such as: a recent installment of several car and car racing movies that may have inspired young drivers to race, young drivers seek new ways to satisfy their hunger for adrenaline, and it’s just another way that teenagers can ‘prove’ themselves to one another, feel good about themselves, and achieve celebrity status.

What exactly is street racing? According to my sources it is any of the following: “… two guys showing up at a stop light and trying to out-race each other." (Armijo) or “an organized race,” (Thompson) where upwards of twenty or thirty people show up to race each other. Oftentimes, the racers will place bets on which car will win, or even on how long until the cops show. Normally, a race isn’t organized and typically goes like this: a driver will pull up to a red light, and rev his engine to another driver to signify that he wants to race. If the other driver accepts his offer, he too will rev his engine. Then, the light turns green and the drivers jam the accelerator pedal. Most of the time, a street race like this is a short one that ends when it is clear who the winner is. These types of races are very dangerous and can cause many accidents. Street racing can be considered a form of aggressive driving.

Each year, until about 5 years ago, the number of deaths and injuries related to Illegal Street racing had increased steadily. Due to new laws and increased incarceration, the numbers now have begun to go down. “Nationwide statistics show that 49 people are injured for every 1,000 who participate in illegal street racing.” (NHRA). To further support this trend, some data was taken from San Diego’s traffic statistics and from The Florida Department of Highway and Safety for motor Vehicles:

In San Diego, where the street-racing problem has been termed "epidemic," 16 deaths and 31 injuries were directly related to Illegal street racing in 2001. The city's attorney's office prosecuted 147 illegal street racing cases in 1999, 161 in 2000, and 290 in 2001. In 1999, the Florida Department of Highway and Safety for Motor Vehicles reported 28 accidents related to illegal street racing, with 2 fatalities and 27 injuries. In 2000, the agency reported 39 racing accidents, with 1 fatality and 55 injuries. In 2002, there were 48 racing accidents, 1 fatality, and 60 injuries. (NHRA)

For the data set from each location, the number of deaths and injuries related to illegal street racing has increased with each year that passed. But why was there an increase street race related accidents and injuries?

Ferrari Crash

Ferrari Crash

What’s a better trendsetter then a good old Hollywood movie? Every time a good movie comes out, there is usually going to be movie spoofs and copycat films. In the case of street-racing movies, many moviegoers wish to experience the same thrills that the movie characters felt when they raced their cars. “`Movies such as The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious do more harm than good; it promotes street racing,’” (Armijo). “The thrill of the illicit races were depicted in last year's box office hit `The Fast and the Furious.’ But street racing doesn't always have a movie's happy ending” (Powell). After the movie’s release in 2001, there was an increase of street races, and when the second movie came out in 2003, there was another rise in street races. (Armijo). But this can’t be the only reason for the increase in street racing.

According to, the number one reason to street race for teenagers is that they seek a thrill. They are ‘looking for something to do’ and feel that by street racing, they can give themselves an adrenaline rush and have fun by doing something illegal. In some ways, teenagers may even feel passionate about racing and to them it may be a “popular pastime” (Thompson). To add more substance to this, a writer for the Los Angeles Time said the following in one of his articles:"A large percentage of the draw and the fun is getting chased by the cops, we can't stop street racing any more than a stop sign stops a car." (Haberman). Street racing is dangerous, and dangerous situations give people a sense of fear, which in turn causes adrenaline to enter their blood stream. The California Highway Patrol lists this reason among a list of several reasons that teenagers may engage in this type of activity.

Dangers of Street Racing

Teenagers also feel that they have to prove themselves to one another. Another excerpt from the L.A. Times, proves this point, “`The big adventure in street racing is showing off in front of your friends,’ [a racer] said, adding that, `without the friends, the racing is far less fun.’” (Haberman). They enjoy the compliments they receive after winning the race. You could probably imagine that those include anything from “That was an awesome race!” to “You went so fast that your tires almost melted!” It’s compliments like these that make the racer feel good about himself and may make him want to race again.

Through racing, teenagers can receive attention from their peers and ultimately achieve status as an established racer. Having a fast, expensive, and good-looking car will earn them respect on the road (and attention from the police). With street racing, teenagers can easily create an `awesome’ car for themselves which both brings them physical and emotional satisfaction and fame and status. And when fame and status come, popularity and materialistic wealth will follow. For some of America’s youth, this reason alone makes it worth it to race illegally.

What if these aren’t really the reasons that teenagers street race? What if the only reason they street race is because it’s illegal and they can? “Young people, often think that adults have forgotten how to appreciate the very meaning and thrill of life. Youths are rebellious, and adults see the rebellion as one step shy of a crime.” (Chabad). So really one could say that teenagers are inherently rebellious, and will do a lot of illegal stuff anyway, including street racing. Also stated, rebellion is a phase that usually dissipates around 25 or earlier. And when comparing the age that rebellion ends to the age that teenagers stop racing, you can see that there is a correlation. The age group of street racers is exactly the same as the age group for rebellious teenagers. One street race driver was quoted as saying, “If it were legal, it would remove some of the fun from doing it, and [we’d] probably race less.” (Haberman).

The reasons for the increase in the trend of illegal street racing may truly be unknown, but we can all speculate about the reasons. Through speculation and research, I’ve concluded that illegal street racers race for three main reasons: they race because Hollywood and the movies make it seem cool, it gives the racers a thrill and an adrenaline rush, and the fact that winning races makes you feel good and brings you popularity.


Armijo, Mark. Pros want to curb illegal street racing. March 2004. The Arizona Republic. 12 April 2004.

California Highway Patrol. Illegal Street Racing. April 2011. <>

Chabad. Life as a Teenager. 2011. Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. <>

Haberman, Douglas. County Ordinance Makes it Illegal to Watch Street Races. March 2002. The Los Angeles Times. <>

National Hot Rod Association. Illegal Race Stats. NHRA. 2011. <>

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Powell, Ronald. Street-race tragedy: Fiery crash into trees kills two. August 2002. The San Diego Union Tribune. <>

Race Legal. Racetrack Not Street. 2011. <>

Thompson, Justin; Younglai, Rachelle; Brunetti, Sara. Indepth Backgrounder: Street Racing in Canada. June 2003. CBS NEWS.


Jak from USA on February 25, 2019:

My life - street racing

BusterMcDermott on June 28, 2012:

I enjoy the list of car racing movies. Nice speed racers! Car racing is just for fun sometimes.

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on March 31, 2012:

Steve - It is possible to set up legal street races by closing the streets first (just like they do for marathons and bike races). Anyone interested should contact their City to discuss obtaining a Special Event permit. It's not easy to do (and will cost money) but it can be done.

Steve on March 31, 2012:

I think it alright to do it if the streets are closed but if there open then it's a bit dangerous so close the streets before you do it

sportgames from Ashter Street 14, New Yok on January 04, 2012:

Racing on the streets is for does that want to feel some adrenaline, or just to impress others but it usually end badly.

But if they really have something to show they should go to the tracks.

Deya Writes on December 30, 2011:

A very interesting read. Voted up :)

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on October 26, 2011:

JasonCulley - You bring up a valid point about tracks being expensive and impractical. Even if they were built, it wouldn't stop all the racing. Teenagers like to have fun and live dangerously, and illegal racing fits that description.

JasonCulley from Cheyenne, WY on October 26, 2011:

As long as one of the thrills is being chased by the cops I don't think it will ever stop altogether. Kids did it back in the day on abandoned roads and now they do it on city streets! There are those exceptions that like the thrill of racing and more dragstrips would cure that. But dragstrips cost money to build, maintain, insure, etc and not too many people want one in their backyard. Kinda like the people who buy houses near airports then complain about the noise and most of the time the airport was there first.

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on October 20, 2011:

Jennie - Thanks for the comment. I agree with you. Punishments for illegal street racing should be very harsh. In addition to this, there needs to be more education on the subject. As you said, many people are unaware of the possible consequences of racing.

Venture Boyz from Floating in the clouds on October 20, 2011:

Street racing is definitely dangerous. I feel like the penalties should be stiffer for those involved. Thanks for raising awareness. A lot of young drivers are unaware of the possibility of vehicular manslaughter.

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on October 02, 2011:

Jeff - I agree. There needs to be more legal places to race. The legal places have to be free (or very cheap) and accessible (close by and open late) for it to be a real alternative for teenagers. The problem is, what property owner would allow teens to race cars for free at midnight? None I suspect. There would be too much liability.

In the end though, you are right. Street racing is just something that will happen. You can post all the cops you want, but the people who want to race will find a way to do it. Sounds like a profitable business idea if you could find the right location.

Jeff on October 02, 2011:

If communities were willing to accept that people young and old are going to race, facilities could be built close by to at least provide a place for legal, safe racing. To much not in my backyard everywhere. Locally, one township does not want big trucks to drive though and is trying to get roads narrowed to reduce traffic.

At somepoint citizens need to accept there are going to be situations that allow us to survive as a society which not everyone will like.

TroyM on June 20, 2011:

It's really big trouble in big cities. There should be more watch on them. It's very important hub. Thanks.

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on June 11, 2011:

I totally agree with you Jones. I know it would eliminate a good portion of the problem. Perhaps some new laws could help with this issue.

Jones on June 11, 2011:

If there were more racetracks where people could go to race, affordablely, (full circuites, not just drag strips) there would be less street racing. Fact.

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