MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we are taking risks. And if you spend much time motoring around local highways, you probably know that getting behind the wheel in our region can sometimes be a risky endeavor. But if you think the guy whizzing past you at 80 miles an hour is taking big risks, imagine losing control of your car at 120 miles an hour or 130. Those speeds are typical in the world of illegal drag racing. And that shadowy world is the topic of our weekly transportation segment, From A to B. In 2008, eight people lost their lives during a drag race in Prince George's County, Md. Martin Di Caro returned to the crash scene to find out what's been done in recent years to slow drivers down.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
A bouquet of flowers, a small American flag and a white cross are planted in the grass median of this four lane highway. But residents along route 210 in Accokeek don't need to see a roadside memorial to remember what happened here four years ago. It was unforgettable. A large crowd had gathered, late on a February night, to watch a drag race on the highway. Eight people were killed when a car plowed into the spectators.
MS. MARILYN RANDALL
It affected me greatly because of the business that we have. The police cut off my driveway and customers could not get down. Customers were turned away.
Marilyn Randall owns a kennel nearby. She's also a member of the Greater Accokeek Civic Association.
I'm sorry, but they died, but why were they doing it?
You don't have to travel far to get the answers to that question. At a nearby high performance auto parts store, shelves are loaded with shiny parts and expensive products made for one thing, the addiction to speed. Video monitors playing endless loop of race cars burning rubber and blasting clouds of exhaust.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1
It's the excitement, I guess. It's no different than being somebody you see on TV, like the running of the bulls. It's just the excitement of being there. It's the -- I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that it's not legal.
That fellow is the manager here and he asked that his name and the name of his business not be used on the radio because he didn't want to be identified with an illegal activity, one in which he used to participate.
It was a thrill. It's an adrenalin rush. It's excitement, that's what it is. It's strictly about the excitement.
What made you stop?
You get older, you get responsibilities, you get families, you get things you could start losing if you get caught. I mean, it's not like it used to be. The police used to come out and tell you to go away, now they'll take your car.
He says, a lot of his customers race their cars legally at the Buds Creek track in Mechanicsville but he knows he probably sells parts to customers who race on public roads. In fact, he knew all eight victims from the 2008 incident as customers in his store. But he says he's not responsible for what customers do with their products. And it's hard for him to really criticize drag racing, even after what happened on route 210.
Going on the beltway at 5:00 tonight. Go up route 5, go down route -- go down Indian Head highway on a Saturday. I've had motorcycles pass me at 130. I mean, everybody around this entire area drives like that, constantly.
Before the tragedy on route 210, he says, there were drag races almost every night of the week in the county, but that has changed.
I don’t hear many more racing around here. You actually have to go north of here, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, to street race anymore. I mean, I'm sure there's some going on around here, but not like it was before, not every weekend, three or four different spots.
I think people are just scared. They knew a lot of people that got hurt and they don't want to be involved in it anymore, plus they know the police around here are cracking down on it.
Police say, aggressive driving, drag racing included, is still a big problem here. Prince George's County Police Major James Harper drove me to the scene of the 2008 drag racing deaths. This stretch of road is a flat straight away.
MR. JAMES HARPER
We're turning around, heading back northbound on Indiana Head highway.
So I can see why this would be enticing.
There are no other traffic lights. There's no speed humps.
Major Harper says, police efforts have reduced, but not eliminated, this dangerous illegal behavior.
You might hear from some of the residents that, you know, there's been a decline, but we've used rebel message boards to put messages up. We've used the traditional methods speed enforcements, writing citations, but also, just a presence, just a presence here.
The county police also partner with the Maryland state police on aggressive driving patrols. State police lieutenant Roland Butler at the Forestville Barracks says, government grants pay for additional patrolling that target the most dangerous drivers.
LT. ROLAND BUTLER
Really we try to concentrate on that, with somewhere between two to four troopers or officers out there patrolling the roadways, looking for those groups congregating in areas that are just totally unusual.
Law enforcement efforts may make a different with ordinary law abiding citizens but our reformed drag racer says, if the risk of death in a high speed crash doesn't stop someone, getting a ticket or even losing a driver's license may not be a deterrent either.
I mean, if you went back to Henry Ford's plant, when the first two Model T's rolled out, the two guys leaving that factory, raced them out of the factory. It's just the nature of men in vehicles.
Drag racers aren't the only ones who pay the price for their high speed driving, the people who share the roads with them say they're at risk too. One resident here used to call this stretch of route 210, the Indianapolis Speedway. I'm Martin Di Caro.
Is drag racing a problem where you live? If so, tell us your story. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.