ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Central Florida leaders are cracking down on street racing. This time though, the aim is to educate Hispanic youth, a community heavily involved in illegal street racing, according to The Alianza for Progress.
"Sometimes I wake up and I would hear an engine roaring through the highway and another and another one," explains Marcos Vilar.
He says he has known street racing to be a problem in Central Florida's Latino community and a persistent one. For the last three years, Vilar has watched more and more street racers being arrested. He says Hispanic families are trying to deter their teenagers from the dangerous activity and now multiple families are being torn apart because of it.
The Osceola County Sheriff's Office invited him to a vigil recently, where he watched a family bury an 11-year-old girl. She had been killed after detectives say two street racers caused a crash with a third vehicle.
"Saw a community torn apart, and I said to myself, ‘Ya know, we can’t just think about this anymore. We have to do something!’" Vilar says.
FOX 35 looked into the number of racers arrested in Florida. According to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 972 drivers were arrested in 2020 across the state for alleged street racing. That was a nearly 200 increase in arrests from 2019 when 785 were taken into custody for the same alleged crimes.
In Central Florida, these numbers went up too. In 2020, law enforcement filed 196 arrest reports for street racing, 24 more than the year prior. Both Orange and Volusia counties recorded the highest cases of illegal street racing with more than 50 arrests in 2020.
"What can we do to get young men and women off of the streets and stop being involved in these races, these illegal races?" Vilar asks.
He says awareness and alternatives are likely the best answers. FOX 35 News spoke with former Florida State House Rep. Bob Cortes, who now works at the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. Cortes says he used to legally race and thinks the crackdown is a must. Cortes supports Vilar’s call to action. He also says tougher laws may not be the answer. Instead, he suggests a new racetrack for the Central Florida area – one that is more affordable and gives more access to teens who tend to be the ones more likely to engage in illegal street racing.
While street racing does happen across all communities, Vilar admits it’s a significant problem in the Hispanic communities in Florida.
"It’s something we see as a problem in our community, and we know we are not the only ones," he adds.
A study completed in 2018 and published by the National Institutes of Health entitled U.S. Adolescent Street Racing and Other Risky Driving Behaviors, examined associations between demographics and driving in a street race (DSR) or being a passenger in a street race (PSR).
"Hispanic/Latino, non-Hispanic Black/African-American and mixed-race participants were more likely to engage in DSR. Males were more likely and teens with moderate socioeconomic status were less likely to engage in DSR and PSR. DSR was associated with other risky driving behaviors in bivariate models but was not independently associated with crashes after sequential modeling," the report states. "Among adolescents, those who are male, racial/ethnic minorities, or low socioeconomic status may be at higher risk of DSR. However, overall driving risk might explain the association between DSR engagement and higher crash risk."
Vilar says high-profile leaders on board with his campaign include Cortes, Congressman Darren Soto, Orange County School Board Member Johanna Lopez, as well as various law enforcement.
Watch FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.