Raghava M. and M.T. Shiva Kumar
Drag racing continues in the city even after the police clampdown
Police say drag races can be organised at specified locations with safety measures
There have been cases where drag racers have been injured and even killed
BANGALORE: A group of youngsters with their motorcycles gather at BRV Junction on Cubbon Road in the early hours of Sunday. Two among them start their vehicles, rev their engines and in one graceful sweep, lift the front wheel off the road and zoom towards the Minsk Square.
These young men, aged between 18 and 22 years, are involved in an activity that has been in the news for the wrong reasons lately — drag racing. This adrenalin-filled activity, which the police term as dangerous and reckless, is continuing even after the police clampdown, particularly after the fatal shooting by an Army sentry of 19-year-old drag racer Mohammed Mukkaram Pasha on December 28. Pasha, who was trying to escape from the police, trespassed into the official quarters of Brigadier P.S. Ravindranath, Commandant, Karnataka and Kerala Sub Area, on Airport Road.
“It was an unfortunate incident. But this does not prevent us from taking part in this sport. With the money I make, drag racing is the only entertainment-cum-sport I can afford to indulge in on weekends. It helps add some money to my pocket also,” said 18-year-old Sohaib Khan, who works in a mechanic shop in Shivajinagar.
He cheerfully admits the drag racers strut their stuff the moment they are out of police surveillance.
Drag racing caught on in the city nearly a decade ago. It soon became a favourite pastime for many youngsters who took to it despite — or because — of the apparent risks involved. Many of these thrill seekers come from Fraser Town and surrounding areas.
Time was when Mahatma Gandhi Road was a favourite venue for their races. But police restrictions and the Metro Rail construction came in the way, forcing them to shift to “clear” roads.
“Some of us have moved on from motorcycles to cars. It is much safer,” said avid racer Mohammed Siddique.
Even so, it is motorcycles that give the ultimate high. Naturally, the ordinary bike is not going to perform those stunts: there is some tweaking and souping up involved, which can cost anything from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 70,000. There are mechanics in many parts of the city, including Indiranagar, Lingarajapuram, Whitefield and Vijayanagar, who are into this business, making use of light materials and some artful tuning of the engine to boost speed.
Police not amused
The police say such races can be organised at specified locations with adequate safety measures but certainly not on the roads. “This cannot be called as a sport. Drag racing is being done at the racers’ own risk as they don’t take adequate safety precautions. They also are a nuisance to other commuters and pedestrians,” said Praveen Sood, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic and Security).
There have been several cases in which the drag racers have been injured and even killed.
“These don’t come to light as they are generally taken as cases of accident,” said a police officer.
The police themselves risk their lives trying to nab drag racers.
In March 2006, Sub-Inspector Arun Kumar was killed after he was knocked down by a racer on Mahatma Gandhi Road.
Cat and mouse game
Drag racers usually are out between midnight and 3 a.m. and the police find it tough to apprehend them.
“It is like a cat and mouse game. If we are on one road, the race will be on another. It is difficult to keep a watch on all the roads,” Mr. Sood said.
Drag racers are usually booked for rash and negligent driving.
In 2008, the city police booked 86,436 cases of rash and negligent driving.
“Now we are not chasing the drag racers. We place barricades at appropriate places and catch them,” he said. Apart from slapping a penalty, the police are taking steps to cancel the driving licences and initiate proceedings to seize vehicles that have been modified, he added.
Not that these measures deter youthful insouciance. One of the reasons may be the fine imposed, which, according to the police themselves, is peanuts.
“The drag racer gets away paying a paltry sum of Rs. 500, which includes the fine and the related legal expenses,” Mr. Sood said.
Like many other traffic offences, the fine for rash and negligent driving should be increased, he opined.