French police launch crackdown on illegal motorcycle road races after 10-year-old girl left in coma

French police launch crackdown on illegal motorcycle road races after 10-year-old girl left in coma

Some 1,383 people convicted in 2021 vs 92 in 2018

Authorities in France have launched a crackdown on illegal motorcycle races following a collision that left a 10-year-old girl in a critical condition with a suspected brain injury.

The incident occurred last Friday (August 5) at around 9pm when, while the girl was playing with an 11-year-old boy in a pedestrian area in front of an apartment block in Pontoise, a suburb of Paris, both children were struck by an out-of-control off-road scrambler motorbike.

The Pontoise public prosecutor’s office told Agence France-Presse that the young girl suffered major head injuries that, if she survives, “will have heavy neurological consequences”. The boy suffered a broken leg.

Following the collision, the 18-year-old rider of the motorcycle, who was believed to have been taking part in what police have dubbed an “urban rodeo” or illegal motorcycle race, and who initially fled the scene, handed himself into a local police station where he was charged with involuntary wounding in relation to the collision.

The crash came after a 19-year-old man was killed in June after being hit by a motorcyclist also taking part in an illegal street race in the western city of Rennes.

Another crash in south-west France also left a 14-year-old fighting for his life in hospital when his motorcycle collided with one ridden by a teenager two years older than him during another race.

Last autumn, an 81-year-old woman was killed when hit by a motorcycle during a street race in the Auvergne region of central France. Months earlier, a 21-year-old woman died in similar circumstances in the Somme in the north-east.

In response to the Pontoise incident, the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, announced that authorities would ramp up their efforts to combat illegal street races.

“The government takes a very tough stance on these often criminal acts which kill, which seriously injure women and children,” Mr Darmanin said during a visit to Marseille.

Darmanin ordered police to carry out a further 10,000 road checks in August, especially in areas with histories of illegal racing, adding that there have been 8,000 such operations over the last two months, resulting in 1,200 interventions and arrests and 700 bikes, quad bikes and cars being seized.

He also instructed them to use CCTV to identify places where the motorcycles were parked so that they could be seized.

Although some reports have suggested that the “urban rodeo” is a phenomenon imported to France from the United States, where riding of illegal motorcycles and ATVs on the streets is a recognised problem, France has a history of illegal motorcycle street racing dating back to at least the 1980s.

A person rides a dirt bike down Fifth Avenue, New York.
A person rides a dirt bike down Fifth Avenue, New York, on November 18, 2021. Illegal dirt bikes and ATVs are a major problem in Manhattan and the Bronx and have caused several collisions, including multiples deaths leaving one four year old dead during the summer. NYPD currently issues fines of $500 and seizes the bikes under “Jonathan’s law”, named after a four year old who was killed. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Since 2018, the French government introduced severe penalties with the aim of combatting rodéos urbains and “dangerous manoeuvres” committed by motorists and motorcyclists, with a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison as well as a €15,000 fine.

For offences committed at organised events such as urban rodeos, the penalties are doubled while for those caught under the influence of drink or drugs, the sentence is trebled.

The number of seizures and convictions for taking part in street races highlights the zeal with which the French government has decided to tackle the issue: last year there were 1,383 people convicted for street racing in France, versus the 92 recorded in 2018.

Despite a high rate of success in catching street racers, French police have been ordered not to give chase to bikers in the middle of races as doing so would potentially endanger life and limb.

In May, the French film director, Lola Quivoron, whose debut feature film Rodeo — on the subject of illegal street racing — earned a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, blamed the police for causing unnecessary deaths. She said that fatalities were “often caused by cops who give chase . . . and who push the riders towards death,” a sentiment that garnered the ire of police unions.

“Rodeos are a good, entertaining subject for a film but for victims and residents, the reality is very different,” the police union, Alliance, said.

“I hope that Lola Quivoron will never be confronted by wild rodeos in front of her house,” said French centre-right senator, Valérie Boyer, echoing Alliance. “[If she is], she could make a film about desperate French people and local councillors all too often at their wit’s end.”

Unlike in France, police in the UK are allowed to chase bikers and street racers when they deem it safe to do so, and when guidance is offered by a tactical advisor. They will advise that the pursuing officers call off the chase if continuing would cause unnecessary danger to the officers, the pursued or the general public.

Deaths and serious injuries involving scrambler bikes are also common in the UK with a number of tragic incidents occurring every year involving unwitting pedestrians and dangerously ridden scramblers.

To ride a scrambler bike or quad on a public road in the UK, riders must be 16 years old, have a driving licence, third-party insurance, number plates, vehicle tax, lights, reflectors and a crash helmet.

If caught engaging in illegal street racing, motorists and motorcyclists may face a fine of up to £2,500, 11 penalty points and a driving ban.

“If it was me handing out the punishment,” said the mother of the girl involved in the Pontoise accident, “it would be 20 years in prison. That would make them think.”

Related articles

Latest articles