Mobs of hundreds of racers continue to roar through the city on weekends, with some hitting traffic police or luring them into fatal traps
An illegal motorbike race on Chu Van An Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Police say illegal street races have become more common in recent months.
The death of a traffic policeman and the injuring of three others while raiding illegal street races reflects the worsening illegal racing problem in Ho Chi Minh City, police said.
Sergeant major Luong Khanh Viet was chasing a group of 30 motorbike street racers when he crashed on a slippery section of District 1's Nguyen Trai Street.
The accident happened at around 3:50 a.m. on September 12. The 22-year-old policeman died on the spot while sergeant major Tran Vo Hoai Thanh, who was riding in the back, suffered serious injuries.
Earlier on September 10, two policemen chased a pair of racers to the intersection at Nguyen Binh Khiem and Nguyen Van Thu streets in District 1. One of the two racers kicked the police bike, causing the officers to crash. Lieutenant Le Trong Tuan suffered a broken thigh bone while sergeant major Phan Thanh Nhon came away with minor injuries.
Residents at the site caught the racers and handed them to local police.
During that weekend, traffic police in HCMC issued fines against 130 illegal racers and seized 7 unregistered motorbikes.
Thanh Nien launched an investigation last weekend that found that street racing in HCMC now attracts mobs of more than a thousand motorbike racers, as opposed to the hundreds it attracted just a few years ago.
The drivers observed by Thanh Nien drove aggressively down city streets on souped-up bikes, often performing tricks. At times, they stopped at pre-determined intersections to hold races, between either two racers or groups of six. The mass of riders often stretched for several kilometers down the street.
None of drivers wear helmets as required by law, and many motorbikes display either fake registration plates, or none at all.
Around a hundred drivers were found to actually be illegal racers, while the others were spectators.
On Saturday (September 17) at around 9 p.m., hundreds of motorbikes began to gather around several streets in Districts 4 and Binh Thanh to prepare for the weekend race.
However, it wasn't until 3 a.m. when the first race was held on Binh Thanh's D2 Street. As usual, several riders performed tricks such as wheelies, zigzagging or driving with their feet.
The group held two-driver drag races for about 20 minutes before the racers and the mob continued to "˜storm,' the common term in Vietnamese, to Dien Bien Phu and Bach Dang streets to find stretches of road conducive to racing.
At 4 a.m. a group of about 500 motorbikes arrived at Nguyen Huu Tho Street where races pitting six drivers against each other were held. During one race, one spectator acting as sentry warned that the police were coming, and the racers quickly dispersed. They continued to drive around the city.
Thirty minutes later, they were found at Chu Van An Street in Binh Thanh District where the races resumed.
They continued the cycle of racing, driving around to avoid the police, then racing again until 7 in the morning before dispersing for the night.
One of the racers, who wishes to be known only as S., said there are people assigned to inspect proposed sites beforehand and advise group leaders about the best places to hold the races.
"Another group will stay around during the races to look out for police raids," said S. who is a racer for a notorious motorbike garage in HCMC that specializes in modifying bikes to make them more competitive. They also modify exhaust pipes to give them that distinctive, deafening roar that defines the races.
Many motorbike repair shops in the city have also sent drivers to the races to promote their services, he said.
"The racers always know which bike was modified by which shop," he said.
Early Sunday morning (September 18), many racers from shops such as these congregated on Binh Thanh District's Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street. They performed several tricks on their motorbikes before starting the races that lasted until 7 a.m., terrifying local residents and passersby in the process.
One racer said many motorbike repair shops soup-up vehicles for between VND5 million and VND20 million, after which the souped-up bike could accelerate to up to 180 kph (112 mph), while the maximum allowed speed in the city is only 40 kph.
Owners of motorbike repair shops often recruit racers and supply modified bikes for them to win races. The owners bet among themselves, and racers get ten percent of the pot.
Meanwhile, many residents have complained that illegal races have affected their everyday lives.
A man living on Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street said he hasn't been able to sleep well during weekends for the past ten years due to the roaring motorbikes.
"Many residents have complained to local authorities but to no avail. Some racers have been fined but it was not enough to deter them from racing again. No one dares to go out at night due to the dangerous races," he said, adding that a local resident was killed recently as she crossed the street, unwittingly stepping into the path of racers.
Some on this street have installed glass in their windows to keep out the roar of the illegal races, that often last all night long.