London’s Metropolitan Police have seized cars worth millions of dirhams in a clampdown on groups of young Arabs who gather on the quiet backstreets of affluent Knightsbridge to race their luxury motors.
Police conducted random checks on high-performance vehicles in the area during July to make sure drivers had valid UK driving licences, insurance and number plates. A Dodge Challenger, an Audi A5, a Bentley Continental and a Ferrari were impounded.
“It’s a social gathering and a way of flirting with girls and showing off,” said Saif Abdullah, 23, from Dubai, as he sat in a café in Basil Street, just behind the world-famous Harrods department store, where young drivers often congregate in the evenings.
“They don’t want to bring embarrassment to their country or be pulled over by the police in front of their friends, but they are not aware of the regulations in this country. There needs to be more awareness.”
From Basil Street to leafy Lowndes Square, summer evenings are regularly pierced by the sounds of revving engines as youths take their supercars for a spin. Car-spotters gather by the sides of the roads to catch a glimpse of the high-performance vehicles.
Fourteen fixed-penalty notices, essentially on-the-spot fines, were issued by police during the operation. Those stopped are understood to be largely visitors from the Gulf, including at least one Emirati.
Mr Abdullah said one of his friends from Abu Dhabi had been stopped and fined by police during the clampdown while driving a chrome-covered Mercedes SLR, but his car had not been impounded.
“People driving high-powered cars around the borough without current driver’s licences, registration or insurance need to understand this is not acceptable and our visible presence at these stop checks serve as a reminder that this is the case,” said Inspector Sean Flynn, of the Met Police, who headed the operation.
Fines were issued for offences including driving without wearing a seat belts, incorrect number plates and driving the wrong way down a one-way street, the police said. Cars also received warnings for having windows too heavily tinted. Cars confiscated belonged to drivers without correct driving licences or insurance.
A 27-year-old Ferrari owner was driving while disqualified and has been bailed to return to a London police station. Residents’ associations complain the problem has grown worse in recent years, as more Gulf youngsters congregate. The issue was highlighted last year when two Emiratis crashed their £180,000 (Dh1.1m) Lamborghini into four parked cars on Lowndes Square after spinning out of control.
Roger Baresel, chairman of a community-police liaison group in the area, said he has had first hand problems with reckless young drivers. First in 1998, he ended up with a neighbour’s Mercedes flipped into his front garden by a Porsche racing from South Kensington station down Fulham Road. Then again on Easter Sunday this year an Austin Martin VR Vantage, worth £150,000, slammed into the pillars at the front of his building.
“It’s a problem of young people being able to afford to have cars that are too powerful for them to handle properly,” he said.
Unpaid parking fines and congestion charges by foreign cars, which are often shipped over for the summer and retain foreign plates making them difficult to trace, have also irritated London authorities.
Transport for London (TfL) which levies an £8 “congestion charge” for cars every time they enter central London, said that as of June this year cars with Emirati number plates owed a total of £8,280.
A total of £286,680 in fines to UAE cars has been written off since 2003, when the congestion charging scheme began, because the authority has been unable to track down owners.
Westminster council has said foreign drivers owe about Dh24m in unpaid parking fines, but again find it virtually impossible to find the owners of cars with foreign plates.
A spokesman for the UAE embassy in London declined to comment.