Forum Editorial: The crackdown on street racing is a good start. Officials need to keep the pressure on.
Aerial spotters have helped nab speeders and exhibition drivers. That's a good start to what needs to be a sustained and concerted effort to make Fargo's streets safe.
Tragedy was narrowly averted in a crash involving a teenager on a motorcycle who slid underneath a car that burst into flames. Witnesses managed to lift the car off of the trapped motorcyclist just in time.
That accident last March, which happened in a popular racing spot, remains a graphic reminder of the public safety threat presented by racing, reckless exhibition driving and suspects who flee from police at high speeds.
As any driver knows too well, dangerous driving on the streets of Fargo has escalated over the past decade. It’s been a top public concern for months, resulting in a town hall meeting at City Hall in early May.
Unfortunately, the word has gotten out among hot rodders that, for reasons of public safety, Fargo police don’t chase traffic violators.
That has resulted in an epidemic of suspects fleeing from police at high speeds. For every 55 police stops, one person flees, a frequency Police Chief David Zibolski has called “a really high ratio.”
In recent months, that “really high ratio” has been surpassed, with drivers fleeing from one of every 22 traffic stops. Because police don’t pursue traffic violators, many of these cases are never prosecuted.
Even if caught, the misdemeanor penalty for fleeing is slight, a small fine or short jail stint — too minor to serve as a deterrent.
Recently authorities have taken their crackdown on speeders and other dangerous drivers to new heights. Working in tandem with aircraft piloted by the North Dakota Highway Patrol, Fargo police have issued a slew of citations.
The first joint effort on a Friday night in May produced 100 traffic stops. The aerial spotters witnessed motorcyclists “flipping wheelies” and racing. In the second outing on a Saturday night in late June, produced 37 citations, including seven for speeding and three for exhibition driving.
The crackdown should continue for as long as necessary. In time, the word will spread and those who think Fargo’s streets are a drag strip will eventually get the message.
The joint effort between Fargo police and the North Dakota Highway Patrol, while worthy, should only be the beginning of a more wide-ranging set of actions and a sustained enforcement campaign.
In the 2023 legislative session, local officials should press for new laws that will give police more tools to get dangerous drivers off the streets. One obvious step would be to enable traffic cameras to record license plate numbers, enabling police to track down traffic violators.
Laws also should be changed to enable police to impound vehicles of flagrant traffic violators whose reckless driving presents a danger to the public.
Longer term, road design, including use of speed bumps, can help to slow traffic in residential neighborhoods.
Street racing is out of control. Police must find ways to increase traffic enforcement patrols. The city needs to fix this as soon as possible. If not, it’s only a matter of time before someone dies.