Stunt racers defy police in their need for speed

Young drivers, and their admirers, are intent on continuing to perform at Al Warqa roundabout despite the efforts of Dubai authorities.

Racing fans as well as the Police hang out at Al Warqaa round-a-bout near Mirdiff in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. Photo: Charles Crowell for The National

DUBAI // Since Ramadan began this year, a number of young Emiratis have been making it a daily practice to race and perform stunts on the Al Warqa roundabout and the roads leading to it. According to the Dubai Police Traffic Department, more than 100 people have been gathering daily to watch and cheer the drivers while they carry out their stunts, known as "doughnuts" and "burnouts". When the department launched a sting operation at the site last Monday morning, officers confiscated 22 cars and seven motorcycles and suspended the driving licences of seven motorists.

In the days since the operation, the scene - under the watchful eye of police patrols - has been much quieter. But youths still gather, chatting in parked cars decorated with Swarovski crystals, listening to music or off-roading through the surrounding desert at high speed in their four-wheel drives. One night's entertainment took the form of racing out from the dunes and stopping within a metre of the traffic circle, taunting police patrols that were waiting to deal with anyone who attempted such behaviour on the road.

Young people say racing is part of a lifestyle that is difficult for them to move away from. And Ahmad Hussein, a 21-year-old unemployed Emirati who sometimes takes part in the races, thinks it will not be long before the drivers start up again. "This is only temporary. People will continue to race, as it is entertaining and part of the youth lifestyle. "There are police patrols now, but at the same time some [drivers] are still going inside the desert and driving there, and soon they will move back to the street, even if the police are present. I know that it is dangerous, but, after all, 'lives are in the hands of God'."

Hussein Mohammed, a 25-year-old Emirati, said racing is a passion he cannot stay away from. "I have had several accidents, but luckily no serious injuries, and I will continue to race. This how we entertain ourselves." His Emirati friend, Sultan Khalifa, 18, can no longer take part in races, because his left hand was injured in a traffic accident eight months ago. "For me, racing is over - mainly because of my injury, but also because I understand how dangerous it could get."

Mr Khalifa, who did not have a driving licence at the time of his crash, was speeding when a truck hit him when he was on his way to school. He had to spend about two months in hospital following the crash; his hand is permanently damaged. "I am the only one put off racing by my injury - my older brother and my friends all continue to race when they have an opportunity. To be honest, I also enjoy watching them do it," he said.

Police, however, are determined to eliminate the practice, and say they will continue to take any measure necessary towards that end. "We will hit with an iron fist anyone who alters the safety of our roads, and we will continue to chase any person who drives recklessly," said Lt Col Saif Muhair al Mazrouei, the acting director of the traffic department. Monday's operation, which was part of the department's efforts to crack down on stunt driving and aggressiveness on the roads, started at around 2am. Police blocked off a number of the roads leading to the Al Warqa roundabout. More than two dozen police in 11 cars, as well as undercover officers, carried out the operation.

Eyewitnesses said the police apprehended a driver who fled the scene in his car. Police had been monitoring the races since the start of Ramadan, and were filming the activities to collect evidence before carrying out Monday's operation. The majority of the people involved were between the ages of 25 and 30.