Illegal street races difficult to combat, says traffic psychologist

By dpa | 23 June 2022

BERLIN: Illegal street racing remains a common crime in countries around the world, but according to one traffic psychology expert, there is "no real solution" to this universal problem.

The president of the German Society for Traffic Psychology, Wolfgang Fastenmeier, says that educational approaches do exist, such as a "crash course" in which speeders are made aware of the consequences of traffic accidents.

But it's unclear if this approach makes a difference, the Berlin professor of traffic psychology told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper.

Most illegal road racers speeders appear to live "in a kind of parallel world," Fastenmeier said. "They simply want to act out and demonstrate their (perceived) superiority over others."

Germany is among the countries struggling with an ongoing problem of illegal street races, and fines and even high-profile murder convictions have not succeeded in preventing petrolheads from using public roads to test the limits of their muscle cars.

Harsher punishments are also often not helpful with illegal racers, Fastenmeier said.

"Punishments are only ever effective if there is an alternative behaviour for the offender to breaking the rules or if the behaviour that is undesirable - in this case, speeding - is not very firmly anchored in their behaviour," he told the paper.

"But that is not the case with racers. Instead, that's exactly what they want to do."

The perpetrators are mostly young people who come from difficult social backgrounds and can represent something with their cars "that they would otherwise not be."

In 2019, two men in Germany were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison by a court in Berlin after an illegal street race that resulted in the death of an elderly man.

Such races have also led to dozens of fatalities and countless arrests in North America, while in Hong Kong police regularly seize luxury sports cars from suspected illegal street racers.

In Vietnam, police have used paint guns to brand illegal racers on the streets of Hanoi, where races are popular among local youth and often coincide with large sporting events.

Rather than chase the young motorcyclists and risk accidents, police use the paint guns to identify racers after the race is over and crowds have dispersed.