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Feds shouldn’t permit races they can’t police

Post by Kim Bradford on Aug. 17, 2010 at 6:55 pm with No Comments »
August 17, 2010 5:57 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

The off-road racing crash that claimed eight spectators’ lives last weekend in California would have been a senseless tragedy no matter where it happened.

The fact that the accident happened on public land makes it doubly troubling.

The California 200, a night derby in the Mojave Desert, is part of a seven-race circuit that attracts big crowds. Off-roaders in 3,500-pound trucks race around a 50-mile-long loop four times, reaching speeds topping 60 mph.

On Saturday, the race turned deadly when a racer lost control of his modified Ford Ranger truck at a jump called “the rock pile” and sailed into a crowd of onlookers who were standing as close as five feet from the course.

Video from the event shows no fencing or other protective barrier separated the crowd from the racers. Fans said that’s part of the thrill of the sport.

“We see volunteers once in a while asking people to move back at some of these races, but that didn’t happen last weekend and the enforcement is way spotty,” said a 28-year-old man who witnessed the accident.

“You want to see the huge tires. You want to hear the engines and get dust blown on you. It’s the closest you can get for any road race.”

Government can’t legislate away stupidity, but neither should it facilitate such a gross violation of basic safety precautions.

The Bureau of Land Management, which manages the portion of the desert where the race was staged and issued the permit for Saturday’s race, shares the blame for allowing such egregious violations.

The race promoter’s permit required racers to travel 15 mph or less when they were within 50 feet of fans. It also allowed only 300 spectators; police say 1,000 attended the race.

Another requirement the promoter apparently ignored: The company promised to have two men responsible for coordinating medical emergency responses. One of the men listed told the Los Angeles Times said he wasn’t assigned to any emergency or medical tasks that day.

BLM officials are launching a review of the accident and other off-road vehicle events, but have so far defended the agency by arguing that safety is the responsibility of the race organizer.

What about BLM’s responsibility to enforce the requirements of the permits it grants for private use of public lands? It clearly isn’t exercising adequate oversight if a race promoter is able to play so fast and loose with the rules.

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