NORTHRIDGE, Calif. — It’s a sobering enough statistic that pedestrians are 50% more likely to be fatally injured in a traffic crash on Halloween than other days of the year, according to the American Automobile Association. But as Americans venture out to trick or treat this year for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement officers are even more concerned because the holiday will take place on a Sunday.
Sundays are a particularly popular day for a type of street racing known as a sideshow, when groups of young people gather at an intersection with their vehicles to do burnouts, doughnuts and other tricks, risking public safety.
“We see it in every bureau of the city now,” said Brian Wendling, Los Angeles Police Department traffic division captain for the San Fernando Valley.
Street racing in LA has increased 27% over the past year, he said; it has also caused three times as many traffic collisions in 2021 compared with 2020. And last year was a banner year. Statewide, the California Highway Patrol responded to more than 25,000 calls involving illegal street racing activity in 2020 — a 16% increase compared with a year earlier.
Wendling was one of several law enforcement officials and lawmakers who gathered in Northridge Friday to remind the public about the dangers of illegal street racing and to celebrate Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing earlier this month of AB 3 — a law that lets California courts suspend the driver’s license of an individual who participated in a sideshow.
“Sideshows are unpredictable, leading to devastating wrecks, violence and senseless deaths in our communities,” said AB 3 co-author and California Assemblymember Vince Fong, R-Kern County, as he stood in front of a mangled BMW that lawmakers took into possession after a suspected street racer slammed into a Subaru in Bakersfield, killing its driver. “Just last weekend we saw a life that was tragically cut short.”
Five days ago, an 18-year-old street racer slammed his car into a pop-up Halloween store in Van Nuys, killing a woman. According to the LAPD, the crash took place on a Sunday, like many illegal street racing activities.
“It’s not an accident that you have three representatives from the San Fernando Valley here who are co-authors of this bill,” said AB 3 co-author and California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills. “This is a statewide issue, but it’s a real issue in the San Fernando Valley. We are one of the hot spots in the state.”
Street racing typically takes place in areas with straight, wide roads, low levels of traffic and easy freeway access, allowing participants to get away quickly. In the San Fernando Valley, that includes Balboa and Glenoaks boulevards, according to a map of street racing hot spots compiled by the California Highway Patrol.
“Speeding kills,” said Auto Club spokesman, Doug Shupe, citing AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research that found even modestly higher speeds at the time of a crash dramatically increased the chances of severe injury and death. “Unfortunately, illegal street racing is like speeding on steroids.”