On Saturday night, drag racing on the 10000 block of South Halsted Street turned deadly. According to news reports, one of the vehicles hit a wall and burst into flames, and three people died on the scene. Because the incident is still under investigation, details are scant.
In August of last year, we talked about the “street takeover” that may have caused a woman’s death. What happened in Washington Heights this past weekend is a little different – there were no pop-up shops or flash mobs this time – but the outcome is ultimately the same: people raced cars, and then people died.
So let’s talk about illegal racing in Chicago, and why it’s so incredibly dangerous to everyone.
Street racing vs. drag racing: what’s the difference?
Street racing is when two or more cars race against each other on a public road, either for a set amount of time or to a specific destination. Drag racing is when two or more cars race each other for a very short distance to see who can reach a designated finish line first. Drag races on public roads are a form of street racing, but not all street races are drag races, because there are different kinds of street races.
For our purposes, though, what they have in common is more important than how they differ:
- All racing involves speeding.
- Racing on a public road is rarely sanctioned.
Both of these points are critical to the dangers of racing – and not necessarily in the ways that you think.
Chicago has a speeding problem
How much of a problem? In 2021, speed cameras issued 2.81 million traffic citations for speeding. That same year, 2.697 million people lived in Chicago. Now, obviously, not everyone in Chicago drives, which means some people got tickets more than once, and some probably went to out-of-state visitors. But this is just camera citations; police and law enforcement issue tickets, too.
And the number of deaths is up as well: according to the Chicago Sun Times, “there were an estimated 280 traffic fatalities during the first quarter of , a 24% jump from the same time in 2021.”
So there are a lot of traffic deaths – many of which were and are attributed to speeding – and an increased number of tickets.
We believe that most folks understand the inherent dangers of speeding. You could hit another car or object. You could hit a bump and send the car flying or cause it to roll over. You could hit a pedestrian or cyclist. And in the event of a crash, the injuries you or others could sustain could be life-altering – brain trauma, spinal cord damage/paralysis, burn injuries, limb loss, organ damage. In the worst case scenario, someone will die.
And yet every day, drivers across Chicago hit the gas a little too hard and cruise down streets that look like open roads but are actually residential, or along highways where they try to “beat” traffic. But when someone is doing it in a race, the stakes may be even higher.
Why unsanctioned races are so dangerous
All the same risks apply, right? The risk of collision, the risk of injury, the risk of death –– it’s all the same. But drivers who speed have a good chance of being caught (by cameras or cops), and ambulances and EMS know the roads where crashes are most likely to happen. Pedestrians and cyclists know which intersections are the most dangerous, and how to check to see if cars are coming down straightaways. If a drag race is part of some kind of city-wide event, there will be emergency personnel on hand.
But none of that is true with an illegal street race, drag race, or “stunt show.” They usually occur in places where the roads are open but less likely to be monitored, or in empty parking lots. If there is a crash and there are a lot of spectators, it can take more time for EMS to reach injured drivers or viewers. And because they’re illegal, people don’t always call for an ambulance or police to help because they fear repercussions for having participated in some way. Plus, most street racers sacrifice vehicle safety for speed, so there’s a very good chance that the vehicle doesn’t have much more than a seat belt to protect them.
So the main reason illegal street racing is so dangerous is not that it can cause a car crash; any kind of speeding can cause a crash. The problem is that when someone is injured, help may not come in a timely enough manner to save the victim’s life.
How to keep your family safe from street racing in Chicago
We wish there was a magic wand we could wave to let you know where these races would be, so you could avoid them. (Is there a Waze-style app for street racers? We don’t know, and you shouldn’t want to know, either.) What we can recommend is that you approach night time driving, cycling, and walking with extreme caution, especially if the roads you travel are wide open and straight, or have multiple curves that may encourage people to drift around them.
- Wear your seat belt – always. It could save your life.
- Stay in the right lane. If you see cars coming up behind you, get as far to the right as you can. Turn onto a side street if you have to – just get out of the way. Cyclists – get onto the sidewalk if you must; don’t assume a bike lane will protect you.
- Make sure to use your headlights (even in the evening when it’s still a bit light outside) and your turn signals, so that you’re as noticeable as possible. If you’re walking or riding at night, make sure your clothing is bright and reflective.
- If you see someone is hurt, call 9-1-1.
If you or a family member was injured by a street racer, Gainsberg Law P.C. is here to help. Our Chicago car accident attorneys can help you fight for the compensation you need. Please call us in Chicago or fill out our contact form to schedule a free initial consultation today.