MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Chances are you’ve seen cars flying past, weaving in and out of traffic, some even doing stunts on busy interstates.
Police say it’s gotten worse in the pandemic. They’re calling for help, and citizens are taking steps to stop it.
Driving on Memphis roads is feeling risky. Reports are surging of speeders and reckless driving.
“It’s terrifying,” resident Tanja Mitchell said.
WREG dash cameras have captured cars speeding past, tailgating and weaving through traffic.
“Here recently it’s just gotten worse,” Grady Bennet said. “To me it’s just a problem that I see.”
Bennett said this past year he’s seen more speeders and stunt drivers in his Berclair neighborhood.
“I don’t like it. I know my neighbors don’t like it. The kids play out here,” he said.
Mitchell says the same thing is happening in her Uptown neighborhood.
“You hear these loud cars coming through the neighborhood,” she said. “And the children outside playing all the time. I’m like, oh my God, please don’t let one of these cars spin out of control.”
John Montgomery recorded video in August in his downtown neighborhood near Front and Union showing a large group of people in cars between Riverside and Front, right by the Fourth Bluff.
He said cars were doing donuts in the middle of Riverside Drive. It went on for 30 minutes. You can still see tire marks in the road.
“It happens essentially every single day, all hours a day,” he said. “It doesn’t belong on public streets.”
In the past few months, it’s become a familiar sight. There was a night of wild driving and donuts in a parking lot off Summer Avenue. And an incident on Rivergate in southwest Memphis where hundreds of drivers reportedly gathered last month.
“I think you’re seeing it just about it everywhere,” said Paul Wright with the Memphis Police Department.
The biggest increase was noticed sometime around March or April last year, he said, around the same time the safer at home order went into effect.
“The events evolved from what they considered car shows to events that evolved to dangerous driving,” Wright said.
Dangerous driving includes things like racing, stunts, donuts in parking lots. It’s forced MPD to work around the clock to stop it through multiple details, to setting up task forces in every precinct.
“We’ve called in partners from THP, Shelby County Sheriff’s, we’ve asked them to assist with kind of monitoring the interstates areas that we’ve been having problems in,” Wright said.
In 2020 — when fewer people were on the road — The Tennessee Highway Patrol reported an 11% decrease in accidents compared to 2019.
But fatal crashes were up 50%.
We asked MPD six weeks ago for reports of reckless driving, stunt driving and illegal drag racing to see if it’s connected, but are waiting to hear back.
“It’s gotten out of hand,” City Councilman Ford Canale said. “I would be willing to bet you that all members of City Council are getting the same complaints I get.”
That’s why Memphis Councilman Ford Canale said he’s working with state lawmakers to increase penalties for drag racing.
He’s drafted three city ordinances set for a final vote next week. They include fines for modified mufflers and allowing police to ticket spectators, passengers and those who stage illegal drag racing events.
“We’ve got to act. We can’t sit back and hope that this just ends,” Canale said.
Mitchell said she, as well as Montgomery and Bennett, have been meeting with city leaders and police for the past year, trying to spread awareness about what they’re witnessing.
“We need and we deserve safe neighborhoods,” Mitchell said. “I’m hoping that when people know this is a problem you can harm somebody.”