By Sharlene Packree and Heinz De Boer
A major blitz aimed at ridding Durban of illegal drag racers swung into action at the weekend as police cracked down on reckless and drunken drivers.
Whitehouse, the notorious drag racing spot near Phoenix, was targeted by a massive SAPS Accident Unit, Metro Police and Road Traffic Inspectorate contingent, who cordoned off the entire area before swooping on the drag racing fraternity.
The no-nonsense approach to illegal car modifications and unroadworthy vehicles adopted by police took many drivers by surprise, with 92 car licences being suspended, 16 being impounded and five people being arrested. One vehicle suspected of being stolen was found.
A further 76 fines were dished out, while three drunken teenage drivers were promptly arrested, one of them being four times over the legal limit.
The raid formed part of Operation Quarter Mile, which is aimed at busting enhanced motor vehicles and their drivers.
And the bad news for those who flout the law is that police have vowed to continue cracking down on the illegal drag racing fraternity as part of their proactive steps to prevent road deaths.
Inspector Terry Murphy, of the SAPS Accident and Emergency Unit, said no mercy would be shown to illegal dragsters and those who frequent racing areas.
He said the law would be used to the maximum to ensure that any vehicles caught in or near drag racing hotspots would be thoroughly inspected and pulled off the road immediately if they did not comply with stringent standards.
"We have pulled out all the stops on this operation so that we can curb illegal street racing and unroadworthy vehicles. We all have to be proactive about the problem," he said.
The team behind Operation Quarter Mile is determined to clamp down on illegal street racing which continues to plague various parts of the city, with the best-known spots being Quarry Road in Springfield, Chamberlain Road in Jacobs and Nandi Drive.
Several lives have been lost in the night races, the latest victim being Felicity Copard, who was killed two weeks ago when her Ford Laser Tracer was involved in a collision with an alleged drag racer.
Copard had been on her way home from work when the fatal accident happened at the intersection of Umgeni and Alpine roads.
Police believe Copard had turned into the path of two drag racers at the intersection.
Metro Police head Eugene Nzama said he was aware of illegal drag racing events in the Durban area.
"We have arrested a number of people who were involved in this dangerous sport. We are very concerned about it because drag racing puts the lives of innocent motorists, as well as those involved, in danger," he said.
Nzama said the Metro Police had fired two of its own members for getting involved in illegal racing.
In another incident in Mount Edgecombe, a man who was a passenger in a car allegedly racing a tow truck, burnt to death after the driver lost control.
The driver, who was the man's nephew, sustained severe burns throughout his body and is in a critical condition at a Durban hospital.
The incident took place on the M41 from Mount Edgecombe towards Umhlanga on Saturday night when the nephew, who had been driving a Ford Sierra, was allegedly racing another vehicle.
A Metro policeman who attended the scene said: "The driver of the Sierra lost control and veered over the centre medium, hitting a road sign and crashing into three cars in the oncoming lane."
The impact resulted in the nephew being thrown out of the car. ER24 paramedic Neil Noble said the car then caught alight, burning the passenger to death and seriously injuring his nephew.