Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bangkok's fast and furious Police consider tougher measures for car racers

They like it fast and furious, and they believe they are above the law.Rescue workers from the Pohtecktung Foundation cut through the mangled wreck of a Porsche involved in an accident that killed two people, including its driver, and injured another on the tollway in the early hours of April 28. FILE PHOTO

Police are considering tougher measures against car racing on the city's motorways after a fatal accident last month killed two people and left another person seriously injured.

Police plan to install more CCTV cameras and radio frequency identification systems along popular racing routes. Speed racers are also likely to face tougher penalties under the law.

The endemic of speed racing on Bangkok streets is nothing new. Authorities have traditionally focused most attention on motorcycle racing by youth gangs known as dek waen.

These motorbike racers are generally from low-income families.

However, on the city's many tollways, well-to-do Bangkok youngsters also have been driving fast and furious in their own speed races, competing in expensive and often souped-up cars.

They do it for an adrenaline rush. Sometimes they wager money and even cars. They also do it to impress the girls, and have been racing for years.

"We know racers of luxury cars aren't afraid of fines. They are rich," said Pol Maj-Gen Worasak Nopsittiporn, deputy metropolitan police commissioner.

The preferred routes for luxury car racing are the Utrapimuk tollway, Burapawithi tollway and the main Bangkok tollway. Vehicles of choice for this crowd are European brands

such as Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari, souped-up Japanese cars and American muscle cars such as Ford Thunderbirds and Chevrolet Camaros.

Police are renewing their interest in luxury car racing after last month's crash, which involved a Porsche. However, they know they face an uphill battle against racing on city streets generally.

One racing enthusiast, the owner of a souped-up Honda Civic, said he has been racing for years and does it mainly for the fun of it.

He said racers usually know if the police are likely to arrive, as someone warns them. If not, they simply get in their cars and drive away. Police seldom chase them. And if they do get caught, the stiffest penalty they face is a fine.

"There is nothing to deter us," the driver said. "Sometimes we even get permission to race."

The term long rod means to test drive. But it is also slang among the rich crowd for driving at speed.

The driver who told us about his experiences speed-racing luxury cars said he had been racing cars since he was at secondary school some 20 years ago.

He admitted accidents happen.

"We know it's dangerous, but it's what we enjoy," he said. "Normally we only race late at night. We make sure the tollway is clear. We don't want to have accidents with any innocents."

On April 28, two people were killed and another seriously injured in a high-speed crash involving three cars on the Don Muang tollway in Bangkok's Lak Si district.

Thaifah Chayaworaprapa, 54, was found dead inside his Porsche. The speed dial was stuck at 280km/hour. Thaifah owned the Buddy Village Hotel on Khao San Road. Also found dead was Pol Maj Sakdipat Pathumarak, inside his Toyota Fortuner sports utility vehicle.

He is the son of Charnchai Pathumarak, a former executive of the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party and former deputy agriculture minister.

The injured man was Amnart Klinyu, 30, driving a Mazda. He's recuperating at Vibhavadi Hospital.

Pol Maj Sakdipat and Mr Amnart were possible casualties of an accident in which Thaifah's speeding Porsche spun out of control.

"I have to admit, we can't monitor them all the time," Pol Maj Gen Worrasak said. "We just don't have the resources."

The endemic of luxury car racing is also directly linked to imports of illegal luxury cars.

The Office of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission has noticed a marked increase in individuals claiming to be students or Thais working in foreign countries.

Thais in those categories can import luxury brands such as Ferrari, Porsche, Audi and Mercedes Benz and Lamborghini into Thailand.

Authorities say the price quoted by the importing party is often less than what was actually paid overseas. This enables him to avoid high import taxes.

Taxes for imported luxury cars are over 200% of the vehicle's value.

An official cited one example of an individual, claiming to be an overseas student bringing back his luxury car, who claimed the price tag is US$43,650 (1.35 million baht), while the real price was as much as $189,000.

The Land Transport Department says another method of avoiding high taxes on luxury vehicles is to take apart the car and ship the parts to Thailand as auto parts, and then reassemble the car.

"Some of my friends do exactly just that," said the speed racer. One took apart his Porsche, shipped the parts back to Thailand and reassembled it at a garage shop owned by another friend.

Now he races the vehicle on city streets.