DUBAI // Garages that modify car engines are fuelling a boom in dangerous racing on public roads by sponsoring the illegal events to advertise their services.
"They make young people believe their modifications make a winning car and thus get customers," said Col Saif Al Mazroui, deputy head of the Dubai Police traffic department.
The races are organised by groups of young men aged between 17 and 30. They usually take place from 2am to 4am, and the most popular strips are the Dubai-Al Ain Road, Al Khawaneej and Al Waraqa. Last week CID caught two drivers racing at the airport tunnel.
Garage owners are thought to be encouraging the races to drum up business for their car modification services, which can cost up to Dh200,000 a vehicle.
Last week police confiscated a 4x4 that had been modified to reach a speed of 300kph. It was the second time it had been impounded for a modifications offence. Police released it three weeks earlier after its Emirati owner, 21, promised not to have it modified again.
Last year 82 people were arrested for racing, and police noted a marked rise during Ramadan.
This year 58 people have been arrested so far, 11 of them between the start of the Holy Month and August 14. The racers appeared to be taking advantage of a shift in work patterns, sleeping through the day and taking to the roads at night.
The problem, however, is year-round, and catching the racers is a battle of wits between them and the police.
In 2008 the traffic department created the taskforce Isnad (Arabic for support) to clamp down on reckless driving and identify trends. It keeps at least six of the racing groups under daily surveillance.
Many of the racers remove their number plates to try to avoid detection and are careful in their choice of venues.
"They decide on the time and venue in advance and choose a specific stretch of the road, usually between two interchanges," said Col Al Mazroui.
"They always try to be as discreet as possible so the word does not spread and lead us to the location before them. We always aim to get to this information."
Isnad has two undercover teams that cover Bur Dubai and Deira. Each team consists of 40 policemen and two lead officers who work around the clock.
"We gather information on the races and who is involved," said an Isnad officer. "We also attend the races undercover to be able to document them."
Undercover officers take photographs and video of races, and recruit sources to tip them off about when other events will occur.
The sources also help to identify which cars are modified, what the modifications are and which garages are involved.
Drivers caught are fined Dh2,000 and given 12 black points. Their vehicle is confiscated for a month, although police can decide to keep it for longer.
Modifying a car without permission is illegal and can attract a fine of Dh400 for the owner and confiscation of the vehicle.
"What people do not understand is that modifications are really dangerous, not because of the speed alone but also because of technical faults and poor work, which can result in an accident or the car catching fire," Col Al Mazroui said.
"We have registered many of these cases," he said, without providing an exact figure.
The garages suspected of encouraging the races fall under the jurisdiction of CID, rather than the traffic department. CID was not available for comment on what action is being taken against them.