Death spurs plan to ban boy-racers

By Juliet zRowan, Beck Vass, Juliet Rowan

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Police in Tauranga say they are hard-pressed to deal with boy-racers who travel there from as far away as Hamilton and Auckland for illegal street racing and "burnouts".

An anti-boy-racer bylaw that imposes rolling street curfews is expected to be adopted in Tauranga after a young man was killed by a car in a street race.

Scott Jarrod Finn, 20, was killed early on Saturday by a car travelling at 160km/h as he watched an illegal car race in Mt Maunganui.

The drivers of both cars in the race have been charged with manslaughter.

Mr Finn, who was the starter for the drag race between a Mitsubishi VR4 and a Honda Integra when he was struck about 1am, died instantly when the Mitsubishi struck him while travelling at more than 100km/h and possibly as much as 160km/h.

Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner said both youths charged were parties to Mr Finn's death.

"The police allege that both drivers were engaged in an illegal street race, and it was that illegal street race that led to the death."

The Mitsubishi's 18-year-old driver appeared in the Tauranga District Court on Saturday and was granted bail. He is not allowed to drive except for work purposes.

The 16-year-old who drove the Honda was charged after going to the police on Saturday afternoon.

The Tauranga City Council is drafting a bylaw - similar to one used by Manukau City Council since 1996 - to stop boy-racers congregating in industrial areas between dusk and dawn. Christchurch has a similar bylaw.

Tauranga police say they are hard-pressed dealing with street racing because the city attracts vehicles from as far away as Hamilton and South Auckland.

"We are stretched on Friday and Saturday nights dealing with the boy-racer problem," Mr Turner said.

"There's significant cost to the council, residential and business communities in cleaning up every morning after them."

Bay of Plenty road policing manager Inspector Kevin Taylor said police were competing with "organised, structured" car events when they dealt with boy-racers.

"It's not a bunch of guys that turn up and say, 'Let's go for a drive'. People are very organised and quite systematic," Mr Taylor said.

"Their ignorance is astounding. When you're 16 to 25, 10 foot tall and bullet-proof, nothing touches you - until it does, and then it's too late. And saying, 'I told you so', actually doesn't help that much."

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said the draft bylaw was in response to complaints by police that boy-racers congregated in groups of up to 100 that were difficult to manage.

The council hopes to have the draft ready for public consultation in July and in place by September or October.

Mr Crosby, a motorsport enthusiast, said he generally supported young people's interest in modified cars.

"It's just when they start to go racing on the streets, it always has the potential for tragedy. It's not the environment to do it in. It's extremely dangerous."

Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson said the solution to the boy-racer problem was simple.

"Take the damn car off them and don't give it back," he said.

He proposed strengthening current legislation, saying if someone was caught breaking the law more than once, he or she should automatically lose the car for good.

Under the "Boy-Racer Act" - officially the Land Transport (Unauthorised Street and Drag Racing) Amendment Act 2003 - police have the power to impound vehicles for up to 28 days, and judges can confiscate them.

Mr Clarkson also proposed more controlled burnouts such as the ones he runs at his Baypark Speedway a few times a year.

"Let these kids do it but in a controlled area, otherwise they're going to do it on the streets."

The national road policing manager, Superintendent Dave Cliff, said bylaws and the legislation outlawing drag racing were useful, but the roots of the problem went deeper.

He said young people had easy access to high-powered cars because they were cheap and finance was available.

They also tended to be influenced by adults who believed it was acceptable to speed because it was not unsafe and that police were only revenue-gathering when they issued tickets.

"That sort of example is then passed through to the kids, which is this generation we see travelling at very high speed."

Mr Cliff did not accept the argument that boy-racers raced on the streets because they had nowhere else to go.

"It's a common claim, but it's really just a cop-out. It's an abdication of their own responsibility."

Tauranga man Dirk de Vries, who rescued a man from a burning car after a boy-racer-style crash last October, yesterday spoke out about the latest death.

"I just think what will it take to understand ... It just isn't sinking in and I don't know how we do it, I really don't. It's sad."

* Manukau City councillor Dick Quax said Highbrook Drive in East Tamaki was next on the list of banned areas. The ban would be discussed at a city council meeting on Thursday.

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