Jaye Sanford, 52, a mother of two, was driving home to a suburb of Atlanta on Nov. 21 when a man behind the wheel of a powerful Dodge Challenger that was allegedly running in an illegal street race collided head-on. her car and killed her.
Sanford – remembered by her friends as a friendly and supportive person – will also be remembered now for another reason: a state law that punishes “drag racing” with jail terms.
In cities across the United States, the popularity of illegal racing has risen sharply since the onset of the pandemic, from Georgia and New York to New Mexico and Oregon.
Runners block roads and even highways to prevent police from arriving as they run and do stunts in their cars, often captured on video that goes viral. Hordes of vehicles, from decrepit cars with rigged engines to luxury sports cars, roar through urban streets, through industrial neighborhoods and down country lanes.
Experts say that TV shows and movies extolling street racing have fueled interest in these races for years.
Then came the pandemic with the consequent quarantines and the usually crowded roads were deserted when people began to work from their homes.
Those with a passion for fast cars had time to modify and show them off, said Tami Eggleston, a sports psychologist who participates in legal races.Across the United States, there has been a boom in illegal auto racing since quarantines began due to the pandemic.
“With COVID, when we were separated from the people, it seems to me that people began to form groups united by common interests,” said Eggleston, director of a small university on the outskirts of St. Louis. “The need to have a social life and be with others made the runners go out.”
But there have been deaths. The roar of engines and traffic jams have become major annoyances. The presence of armed runners or that they leave beer cans lying in parking lots has been reported.
The police in many cities are intensifying the repression and the states are responding with laws.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp last week sanctioned the law named after Sanford, which punishes with at least 10 days in jail any infraction and seizes the vehicle of anyone with three convictions in less than five years.
In New York City, authorities received more than 1,000 complaints in the past six months, nearly five times more than in the same period in 2019.
Democratic state Senator Brad Hoylman is sponsoring a bill authorizing the city to operate its cameras on nights and weekends at drag spots.
In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves passed a law in March that allows state police to intervene in incidents in cities. On New Year’s Eve, runners blocked a highway in Jackson, the capital, for an hour while spinning on the pavement.
Although the highway patrol headquarters is nearby, the agents were unable to intervene because the law prohibited them from doing so in cities with more than 15,000 inhabitants. The new law, which takes effect on July 1, removes that ban.