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Street Racing on Social Media

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Many people are passionate about speed, whether dizzying roller coasters or fast motorcycles. But for some drivers, this need for speed manifests in a dangerous and illegal way: street racing. This underground subculture draws participants and onlookers across the country. Fueled by adrenaline and competitive spirit, drivers race and drift (purposely oversteer to perform fishtail-style stunts). Some compete for money; others race for glory. Unfortunately, these races risk the safety of vehicle occupants, onlookers and passersby.

Participants often turn to social media to share photos and videos of their exploits and announce upcoming races. That’s why we decided to analyze 161,400 Instagram posts with hashtags related to the illicit hobby: #streetrace, #streeto, #streetdrift, #streetracing, #streetoutlaws and #1320. We also surveyed more than 1,000 people to get their take on the topic and examined data about street racing fatalities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

How do Americans feel about street racing? Which parts of the country see the most deaths from this illicit pastime? Which cities and states are street racing hotspots? Which months and days do people most frequently post on social media about it? And how do feelings about racing compare across the country? We’ve got the inside track on the world of street racing.

Feelings About Street Racing

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Street racing has been around for decades, but in recent years, the street racing scene has exploded. It’s been partly fueled by movies such as “The Fast and the Furious.” (The eighth in the series of action movies will hit theaters in 2017.) In 2013, Discovery Channel even debuted a documentary called “Street Outlaws,” propelling the subject even more into the mainstream.

But how often do races truly occur? According to our survey, more than half of men and nearly four in 10 women in the United States have seen an illegal drag race. Additionally, around a quarter of men and almost 9 percent of women say they’ve actually been a driver or dropped the flag.

Surprisingly, only slightly more than half of people say they don’t condone street racing. In fact, nearly four in 10 say they’d be willing to participate in some way, whether as a spectator or driver. If our respondents stumbled upon an illegal race, nearly 56 percent say they’d stick around to watch, however, they’d report it to authorities.

The Deadliest States for Street Racing

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While the actual number of street racing deaths is relatively low compared with some other fatality statistics, the fact is that these deaths are preventable. Among every state in the nation, Louisiana has the highest rate of fatalities related to illegal street racing. A recent news article compared the street racing scene in Shreveport, Louisiana, to “a scene straight out of ‘The Fast and the Furious’ movies.” One driver there admitted to reaching speeds as high as 166 mph.

Nevada has the second-highest rate of street racing deaths – indeed, Reno and Las Vegas have both struggled with the issue. These communities are particularly vulnerable: In these 24-hour entertainment hubs, people drive to and from work around the clock. Street racers seeking empty stretches of road are likely to encounter fellow drivers even into the wee hours.

South Dakota claims third place for deaths. In recent years, police in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have seen an uptick in races and recently spearheaded a campaign to reduce unsafe driving practices, such as racing and reckless driving. Delaware, Nebraska and Colorado also have higher-than-average fatality rates related to illegal drag races.

The nationwide death toll from street racing may be even higher than the data reveal; however, it can be difficult for officials to accurately track related fatalities if no witnesses come forward.

Street Racing Instagram Posts

The map above tracks the density of street racing posts on Instagram. As you can see, post volume is heavier in major cities. Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver dominate in the West. (L.A. is actually the origin of “The Fast and the Furious” film.) On the other coast, Boston, New York and D.C. stand out. Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Miami are also hotspots for these racing-related Instagram hashtags.

States Where Street Racing Reigns

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When it comes to talking street racing on social, Oklahoma far and away claims the top spot. Instagrammers there share just more than 11 street racing posts per 100,000 residents. The state is home to a unique street racing event: Once a year, the city of El Reno hosts an event called “Small Town Weekend” that features the country’s only legal street race down Highway 66. Though the race takes place under police supervision, last year one driver was involved in a terrible crash (fortunately, he was not injured). Illegal races occur in Oklahoma as well. In 2015, street racers were caught on camera in Edmond and Oklahoma City traveling as fast as 200 mph.

Nevada ranks second for street racing Instagram posts. As mentioned above, entertainment hotspots Reno and Las Vegas also draw adrenaline-fueled drag racers. In hopes of curbing illegal races in Vegas, officials urge drivers to attend safe and legal alternatives, such as “Midnight Mayhem” at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Numerous street racing Instagram posts also originate from Indiana (particularly Indianapolis), as well as North Dakota, Texas, Florida and California.

Popular Cities for Street Racing

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Next, we zoomed in on specific cities with high rates of Instagram posts about drag racing. Though cities in Florida dominate the list, Sugar Land, Texas, shoots to the head of the pack. The city is a suburb of Houston, which has long struggled with a thriving illegal racing scene, with competitors gathering in empty parking lots and racing all over the city. Aliso Viejo, California, a city in Orange County, takes second place for street racing posts on Instagram. Racers in the area tend to be on the young side, officials have said, and the events are often small ones that don’t draw crowds.

Indianapolis takes third place. Home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana is known as the racing capital of the world. However, it appears the passion for speed does not stop where the law ends. In 2015, a race between a Mustang and a Corvette in Indianapolis killed three people, including a 12-year-old girl.

Fourth-place Ocala, Florida, hosts the annual WannaGOFAST event: a “safe and controlled” street race on a drag strip. However, illegal street races also plague the city. Finishing the top five is Bowling Green, Kentucky, where residents come by their love of fast cars naturally: The city is home to the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park and Beech Bend Raceway. Along with a handful of cities in Florida, Long Beach, California, and Coppell, Texas, also rev up Instagram feeds with numerous racing posts.

Top Months and Days for Illegal Races

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Officials in numerous states point to warmer weather as a factor in beckoning racers to the streets. Indeed, Instagram race posts skyrocket in March, April and May. However, relatively scant posts appear in summer – June, in particular, sees the fewest street racing posts of any month.

Instagram posts about racing remain fairly steady throughout the week. Race photos appear in Insta feeds most frequently on Sundays and Tuesdays, followed by Mondays and Saturdays. Although it’s likely many street races occur on weekends, some participants may share Instagram posts both before and after the events.

Common Times for Illicit Racing

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A clear trend emerges when examining the time of day Instagrammers post street racing images. These missives crescendo in the evening, at nightfall, and in the wee hours of the morning, hitting peaks around rush hour and again at 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Posts then drop dramatically in the morning hours between 6 a.m. and noon.

It’s clear that both street racing posts and actual street races generally occur during the evening and early hours of the morning. While some might picture a secret rendezvous taking place during the witching hour, police in Las Vegas noted that street races do not necessarily occur in the middle of the night – and an empty road at 7 p.m. is just as likely to beckon participants.

Instagram Sentiment Toward Street Racing, by State

states with the most street racing likes

Tracking the number of “likes” that Instagram posts receive can help paint a picture of general sentiment toward the subject. Along with claiming first place for these posts, Instagrammers in Oklahoma by far outpace the rest of the country when it comes to double-tapping them.

Oklahoma actually inspired the Discovery Channel Show “Street Outlaws,” which chronicles the lives of street races. Though it focuses on Oklahoma City, scenes are apparently filmed across Oklahoma, including in Tulsa. Although billed as a reality show, “Street Outlaws” itself notes that the races occur “within a controlled environment with strict safety protocols in place.”

Many states where Instagram users “like” posts most frequently are also the origin of a higher-than-average number of posts, such as Nevada, Texas, Indiana and North Dakota. Clearly, a love of automobiles and speed can be ingrained in the culture of a state.

Conclusion

Legal automobile racing can be a fun, exciting and positive experience for both participants and fans; illegal street racing, on the other hand, can terrorize residents, injure innocent people and claim lives. Any driver who does not adhere to speed limits is taking a massive risk after all, hidden crosswalks, blind corners and pedestrian-heavy areas may not be obvious until it’s too late.

In a personal essay for RoadandTrack.com, former street racer Jack Baruth notes that participants are drawn to the subculture for various reasons: “Maybe they watched a movie that glorifies street racing. Maybe they have friends who do it. Or maybe they are simply listening to a voice within that tells them to go out and see what you’re made of,” he writes. His chilling prediction: “As an activity, street racing has little going for it. If you stick with it long enough, you’ll wind up dead or in jail.”

You may hear a street race before you see it due to the telltale sounds of motors revving and brakes screeching. Though your top priority should be to steer clear of danger, you should call the police to report the incident when it’s safe to do so. If possible, take note of the direction the car is traveling; the make, model and license plate; and the driver’s appearance. Even if racers have left the area, it’s still important to contact authorities. Pinpointing the exact location can help law enforcement track racing hotspots and ramp up patrols in the area in hopes of putting the brakes on this dangerous practice.

Methodology

We analyzed 161,400 Instagram posts with street racing–related hashtags and included #streetrace, #streeto, #streetdrift, #streetracing, #streetoutlaws and #1320. For our “What Do Americans Think of Street Racing” graphic, we conducted a survey of 1,006 people, and for our “Which States Have the Most Dangerous Street Racing Scenes: Based on the Number of Fatalities in Street Racing Crashes,” we analyzed the most recent NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System data.

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