This has been an issue for so many years, certainly for the 17 + years I’ve been policing the West Midlands. The problem has grown and grown, fuelled by a now social media powered generation eager for cheap thrills without consideration for the consequences of their own actions. Pretty representative of the country as a whole some might say. Despite numerous warnings and wise words given, all falling on deaf ears unwilling to heed good advice, we find ourselves now in a situation where the car cruising scene and the anti-social behaviour problems and illegal street racing it brings with it, regularly top our communities list of concerns, and as a result ours.
The Bare Truth
Lots of misconceptions about the car cruising scene, so here is what goes on weekly on the streets of the West Midlands. Social media arranged meets at suitable locations where racing can take place bring offenders from all over the region, and sometimes further afield, we having dealt with drivers who have driven over 100 miles to attend and partake in an illegal pastime that affects the quality of life of thousands in midland communities.
A stretch of dual carriageway with an island at either end with room for onlookers to view and park adjacent and close to the racing is preferred. Not all attend to race, some attend just to watch, but both are just as guilty, after all those who do race just crave attention, no audience would mean no racing and no anti-social behaviour, you get the idea. If you turn up to watch you are part of the problem, expect to be treated as such.
Those who attend will say they gather just to admire the machinery, well this happens every weekend with classic car enthusiasts, modified car enthusiasts, motorcyclists etc., but they do it at a place where they have had permission and without affecting anyone else, so in these circumstances there are no problems. But when car cruisers meet at a location they have no permission to gather at, and then offences and disruption start taking place, we get calls that can total hundreds a month. We get collisions, we get petrified innocent road users, and local communities and businesses whose lives are affected and who feel under siege every time they gather.
Although the tag “boy racer” is a favoured term of the majority for the offenders who attend, many are older, many are female, some with families, good jobs, responsibilities and normal lifestyles away from this offending, that they portray as a hobby or interest. The trouble is when they attend they quickly forget their responsibility to the wider community, a selfish desire to get cheap adrenaline fuelled kicks takes priority over everyone else’s safety and wellbeing, and as such the response to a problem we have to put an end to is harsh, as you will see.
The time for talking is done
As we have previously mentioned, this is a historic ongoing problem for the communities and innocent road users who become victims of these offending car cruisers and street racers. For years we have tried to reason with the offenders, tried to make them see sense, point them in the direction of legal alternatives to their offending in the shape of track days, legally organised insured meets at showgrounds or airfields, but alas, they are not interested, they want cheap kicks at the expense of the greater law abiding public.
Despite our continued warnings of the long term implications resulting from an interaction with ourselves, if you’re found offending in any way at or around a car cruising meet, there appears to be an abundant supply of drivers who wish to have their driving and life chances curtailed by conviction and the associations with car cruising and street racing. So it really is a case of “You’ve made your bed…time to lie in it.”
A new approach
Previously we were reactive when it came to the problem. The calls would come in, a marked unit, local, traffic or CMPG would turn up, on went the flashy lights and the problem slipped away in convoy to harass and intimidate another neighbourhood. The problem was temporarily solved but the next day, next week it re-appeared. There were no consequences to the offending. Now since the policing of the roads has fallen under the CPMG “umbrella” with its regional co-ordination and intelligence capabilities we have the resources to go on the offensive, literally 24/7 against the car cruising and street racing offenders.
Firstly we had the intelligence gathering phase, most offending is arranged via social media so we took a great interest in what was happening regards organisation and the main players. Then we gathered a list of all those that attended the meets and locations where offences were taking place. This has resulted in a data base of nearly 600 registration numbers that will automatically alert on any of our ANPR systems, meaning we can track, tackle and take off the road anyone who attends any of the meets all of the time. So you could attend a meet, be part of the problem at the weekend, but it won’t be until you are driving to work, taking your mom shopping, taking the kids to school that we stop you, anywhere anytime we will make you accountable for your actions.
We now go out looking for offenders proactively, this is the current phase, we suddenly appear in unmarked cars in the middle of their racing, the video footage is damning in court, as is footage from a helicopter or spotter at the side of the road. That person filming you racing, trialling or doing a burnout etc. with their phone, could well be a plain clothes officer.
Feeling paranoid? You should be.
Get caught racing or trailing on the public highway and the consequences are simple, once we have you stopped you will be reported for racing on the highway, driving without due care or dangerous driving and also driving with no insurance. No insurance ?, yes no insurance, there isn’t an insurance policy in existence that covers you for illegal street racing or trailing – just check your policy or ask any underwriter. Insurers are the most risk adverse people in existence so as you can imagine, Illegal street racing, trailing and just being in the locality is a massive no-no. So as well as a court appearance if you’re caught in the act of racing or trailing we will seize your vehicle under S165 RTA as it was being driven outside the limitations of its cover whilst you were committing the other offences. Oh and we’ll chuck in a S59 warning just for good measure also, we never miss an opportunity.
As the onlookers gather we look at them for modified vehicles with offences, those with modifications that make them dangerous and unroadworthy, modifications that clearly haven’t been notified to the driver’s insurer. If you have to lie to your insurer to get insurance, you have no insurance. A false statement to obtain insurance is a serious offence in itself, but it leaves you without cover and as a result walking home. A replacement racing steering wheel without an airbag, a lowered vehicle with wheels that won’t turn to full lock without rubbing, race seats, harnesses, body kits all mods that render your vehicles NCAP safety rating useless, insurers don’t like modifications especially if you’re under 25 years old. Any performance enhancing modifications are always a certain seizure without a specialist policy from a specialist insurer. After all if your production car isn’t fast enough, or stops well enough when it leaves the factory it says a lot about you, how you want to drive and your subsequent risk to an insurer. We have discussed at length with technical motor insurer underwriters what they will cover and won’t cover and under what circumstances. An illegal unroadworthy vehicle due to modifications is an uninsurable vehicle, and the easiest one to spot is driver’s window tints, any illegal tint to a driver’s window makes it uninsurable, insurers don’t cover vehicles that you have modified to be in a dangerous condition. And yes we will even notify your insurer of undeclared replacement aftermarket exhausts, stereos, body stripes/stickers, after market alloys etc., it really is zero tolerance if you give us cause. If you are found racing, watching the racing, taking part in a gathering that has caused calls regards anti-social behaviour etc. have no doubt, we will deal with you in the harshest way the law will allow, don’t say we didn’t warn you all, we’ve been asking nicely for years.
Get caught racing or trialling and convicted at court you’ll be lucky to walk out with your licence. If you are caught where an injunction is in place then the going rate is 5-6 months in prison if you have no previous convictions, yes that’s right, first ever offence gets you prison under these circumstances. The Dudley injunction has proved especially productive regarding sending illegal street racers to prison, they were warned …… Many other regions are copying Dudley’s approach and are seeking similar injunctions, are your 30 seconds of racing really worth prison? Gosh your family would be proud…..
Like we said, we will seize your car as no policy insures you to race or trial on a public road. When you come to get it back our specialist insurance officers at Operation Piranha will call your insurer and inform them of your actions, if your car is leased or financed they will also call them as well, after all they have a vested interest in your car and how it’s driven, finance agreements and lease agreements have been cancelled as a result of our calls, bye bye car, bye bye credit rating, bye bye your chances of getting affordable insurance for the next 10 years. And once you’re convicted, the racing on the public highway, no insurance and due care/dangerous driving convictions leave you next to uninsurable unless you have the bank balance of a Premier League Footballer. A high price to pay for 30 seconds of showing off, don’t you think…….
Undeclared modifications, false addresses, false ages, undeclared convictions regarding your insurance will really complicate your life and driving. Out of office hours we will have to seize your car if it’s obvious you’ve given a false statement to obtain insurance. If your car has dangerous modifications that make it unroadworthy, it is uninsurable so a seizure is inevitable, you obviously haven’t told them as insurers don’t insure vehicles that have been intentionally modified to a dangerous condition. Get stopped during office hours, and thanks to our ANPR database of those who attend car cruising events these drivers are easy to target now, and we will just phone the MIB (Motor Insurers Database) and they will call an underwriter at your insurer and see if firstly you have declared all relevant modifications, convictions, if your address and occupation are correct etc. etc. Anything undeclared or falsified usually results in a policy being voided from inception, so you walk and have a no insurance and dangerous condition prosecution to look forward to.
If your policy isn’t voided from inception you will have your policy cancelled upon collection of your vehicle with notice, meaning usually you will get your vehicle back but the insurer will cancel your policy due to your false statement.
99 % of all of our Operation Hercules seizures have resulted in voided or cancelled policies, the insurers are fully supportive of the stance we take regarding car cruising, illegal street racing and lying to get insurance, again you have been warned. A cancelled or voided policy is something you carry for a long long time and can be more impactive than a no insurance conviction. After all every time you apply for insurance of any kind, it might be travel, home life, mortgage etc. they always ask “Have you ever had a policy cancelled or voided?” As you see your little car cruising adventure or street race can have far reaching consequences. Don’t believe us just read on…..
Behold the truth is told… a couple of case studies
Let’s start with the undeclared modifications. A Honda Civic is spotted on a routine speed check mid-afternoon in leafy Solihull. The car is being driven in a normal manner, not at meet, but it is quite clearly heavily modified and is one of our target vehicles, as you can see from the pictures. Modifications include body kit, spoiler, weight reduction, racing steering wheel (minus airbag), aftermarket alloys, performance air filter and manifold etc. etc. The pictures speak for themselves. The vehicle was insured with a run of the mill high street insurer as a standard production Civic, the driver, being 20 years old knowing full well that disclosure of the modifications would prevent him being insured unless he sought out a specialist insurer and policy costing him a great deal more.
A quick call to his insurer on our behalf by the Motor Insurers Bureau and the modifications are duly disclosed. The insurer instantly refuses to cover the vehicle stating they would not have insured him given just one of the countless modifications due to his age. The car was seized as it was being driven with no insurance, the driver reported for driving with no insurance and driving a motor vehicle in a dangerous condition, with an altered exhaust/silencer etc. etc. By the time he found a specialist policy to insure the vehicle with all the modifications declared, the recovery/storage fees had amassed to £345. Then there are the minimum 6 points on his licence for the offences committed and fines and costs at court. The car is only worth a maximum of £1500, a painful lesson in why you shouldn’t lie to obtain insurance. But more importantly the original insurer will share the offender’s details with other insurers to warn them of his previous capacity to make false statements. Having a cancelled or voided policy because of a false statement will impact on your life in far many more ways than the resulting no insurance conviction, insurers don’t like high risk and those who fail to disclose true details upon incepting a policy, of any kind. And let’s not forget if the offence of making a false statement to obtain insurance, that’s a conviction disclosable in a great many circumstances, talk about limiting your life chances.
Now an example of one who has been caught racing/trialling. It’s a usual Sunday night on Nechells Parkway in Birmingham, approximately 80 vehicles have gathered to race, drive dangerously, and watch the clowns at play. We’ve tracked the offending vehicles via ANPR and arrive 2 minutes after them, just as we enter the fray in an unmarked car getting great footage as 5 cars race on their makeshift Scalextric type oval, we pick the rear vehicle who is nearly on two wheels, tyres screeching to their grip limit as the driver tries to maintain contact with the bunch in front. He has his brand new Fiesta ST on the limit. He’s clearly racing, the driving is competitive, we close in and the stop is put on the Fiesta, the world suddenly drops out of the 19 year old driver’s life. In an instant he realises that as a new driver he is only allowed 6 points before a licence revocation. How’s he going to get to work, how will he ever get insured again, but it gets worse. As he’s reported for racing, a no insurance offence goes hand in hand, there isn’t an insurance company in the land that will cover you for illegal street racing, it’s quite clearly listed as a limitation to cover on policies. As the vehicle is uninsured for the purpose it is being used for, racing, it is duly seized. On trying to recover the vehicle the finance company is informed and they cancel the agreement. The insurer notes the impending charges for racing, due care, and no insurance, they authorise release of the vehicle and honour the policy under “normal” use until conviction, which will see a cancellation of the policy, insurers don’t like risk, especially drivers who engage in high risk offending.
And for those who have declared everything and are fully legal insurance wise, and are not racing trialling or being anti-social but have just turned up to “make up the numbers” we will always fall back to our “bread and butter” traffic skills, an altered exhaust or silencer will cost you £100 fine, number plate offences the same, lighting faults £50 an offence, the list is endless, be part of the problem and expect to be treated in a zero tolerance fashion. And if you read the details of the injunctions being granted to prevent cruising, your behaviour can cause a breach of the injunction far more easily than the manner of your driving.
The extreme consequences of the car cruising scene and illegal street racing has seen fatal collisions, either going to, at, or coming from illegal events. This combined with the high priority to our community that the offences associated with the car cruising scene now have, mean that it really is no more smiley faced policing, the “Black Rats” will come after you at every opportunity whenever you are on the road. Don’t want to be one of our targets? Don’t want to be on the Operation Hercules ANPR hotlist, then don’t attend illegal car cruising or street racing events in our region, it really is that simple.
Safe Journeys all.