The death of an 18-year-old woman on Sunday morning has drawn renewed attention to illegal street racing in Canterbury.
Zara Mitchell, 18, was killed in a crash in Rangiora on Sunday morning. Police were called to a report of illegal street racing activity in Fernside, North Canterbury, just before 4.45am on Sunday.
18-year-old learner driver Adam Rapson appeared in Christchurch District Court today charged with dangerous driving causing death amongst other charges.
Canterbury rural area commander inspector Peter Cooper blamed illegal street racing for the circumstances leading up to the crash.
Speaking to The Front Page podcast, South Island-based reporter Nathan Morton says boy racers are nothing new in this part of the country.
“There’s been a problem in Christchurch for decades and decades,” says Morton.
“It almost goes hand-in-hand with the city’s car culture. It’s that deeply embedded. The resident we spoke to said they were having up to 100 races gathering at the main intersection, and that they were even closing roads off.”
Morton says the boy racer problem was previously centred in Christchurch, but it has steadily moved further out to the more rural areas – and it’s these communities that now have to contend with the burned rubber, races and disruption.
“There’s anecdotal evidence it’s getting worse out in the rural regions, and it kind of feels like it’s only really a matter of time before another accident like the one over the weekend happens,” says Morton.
Morton says there has been a concerted effort in the region to address the issue, with the local council introducing measures like traffic lights, speed bumps and cruising bylaws that limit access to certain roads at certain times.
But with the introduction of each of these steps in different parts of the Canterbury region, the racing moves from spot to spot.
“It’s this buck that just keeps being passed around from suburb to suburb. The problem’s just being shifted around.”
Morton says it’s difficult to narrow down this problem to a specific group of people given the sheer number of cars that turn up to these meet-ups.
“Numbers get quoted of up to 500 cars that can be involved in these meet-ups and up to 1000 people. Police can’t be expected to have a name and headcount for every single member. It’s not a formal community, per se. The police usually target those repeat offenders, the ones who get familiar with being in the back of a squad car because they’re being picked up at these meet-ups on a regular basis.”
Listen to the full episode of The Front Page to hear more from Nathan Morton on the Boy Racer scene.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am. It is presented by Damien Venuto, an Auckland-based journalist with a background in business reporting who joined the Herald in 2017.