Sheriff’s investigators say they’ve ruled out drag racing, but the $500,000 Porsche Carrera GT, driven by Walker’s friend Roger Rodas, was going at least 90 mph on a street with a speed limit of 45 mph, according to a Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective quoted in published reports. The Porche spun out of control at a bend in the road, clipped a light pole and a tree and quickly burst into flames, killing the actor and his friend.
The spot where the accident occurred is sadly already well-known as a place where drivers test their street racing “cred” in the Santa Clarita area of California. Like certain areas of Detroit, where I practice law, that area has a history of street racing. Skid marks are everywhere and teens are familiar with a stunt called, “drifting.” The drifting stunt is a way to get the car’s back end to shimmy and slide, according to a story in The Christian Science Monitor, “Paul Walker crash could ‘romanticize growing street racing culture.”
As an attorney who helps people in auto accidents, I worry about the dangers and the growing appeal of drag racing – glorified by movies like the “Fast & Furious” – on our young people. I worry whether this culture will get a further boost by Paul Walker’s death last week, and how his death will be reflected by the underground street racing culture that already exists in so many urban areas in America today.
The actor and his friend were not drag racing, but they were speeding. In an incredibly souped-up and expensive sports car.
Paul Walker’s death romanticizes the appeal, but not the risk, to a drag racing culture that is already well aware of the dangers. It doesn’t stop them.
In many ways, I compare the drag racing subculture to the motorcyclists I’ve written about who ride crotch rocket Super Sport bikes, and how the death rates among this group are much higher than any other types of motorcycles. SuperSport fatalities consist mostly of young men who are inexperienced riders. Drag racing attracts the same young, male demographic and involves much of the same thrills of speed, danger and risk. That’s the draw of the drag racing culture – seeing how fast you can go and live to enjoy it.
I’m sure young drivers have always wanted to drive fast. The “abstinence” route may not work here, especially when a big part of this racing culture is thumbing your nose at authority and the law. Street racing experts say the best way to curb car accidents from street racing is to get young drivers off the streets and onto supervised racetracks – and for law enforcement to impose stricter penalties for those to still choose to street race. That means going to the areas where law enforcement knows this is taking place and having a continuing presence.
Until then, I hope young drivers and those tempted to go for a drag, whether that be in Detroit or Santa Clarita, will heed Walker’s loss. He left behind a legacy in his action movies.
But hopefully it will be a different legacy that will continue on for the actor.
Even in his early days as an actor, Walker made public service announcements about his supervised movie stunts enacted by professionals, warning young viewers of the immense dangers of street racing. Walker says, “City streets and highways are no place for reckless behavior. So all of you behind the wheel, remember stunt driving belongs in the movies and not on the streets.”
Our sincere condolences to Mr. Walker and his family.