Calls for a police crackdown on hooning on Canberra’s western edge are growing louder but the community feels like it is spinning its wheels after years of government inaction on the issue.
The Cotter area has been a long-time destination for drifting – sliding around corners – but in recent years the number of drivers, vehicles and illegal activities such as burnouts has increased, as has the frequency of late-night meets.
Mustering in Woden and at Weston skate park, they are doing laps, burnouts and churning up ovals in Weston Creek and Molonglo before heading into the mountains and on the way back.
Uriarra village resident Joanne Hagan has been calling for something to be done about the hooning for years but says this year it has become worse, more organised and more older people involved.
She said 40 to 50 vehicles was a common sight, some with trailers.
“A couple of months ago we heard them go past, beeping horns and doing burnouts close to the village entrance,” she said.
“There must have been close to 100 cars, it went on, the procession, for about 10 to 15 minutes.
They have two regular sites – the intersection of Brindabella Road and Uriarra Road and the Cotter Dam car park near Mount Macdonald.
Ms Hagan said the noise was intense and they left the roadside littered with debris and fast food packaging.
The meets happened late on a Friday or Saturday night and pretty much every weekend, she said.
“This year a car caught fire at the corner of Uriarra Road and Mountain Creek Road,” she said. “It’s an issue during drought when there is tinder-dry grass. Then we’re all at risk out here.”
Ms Hagan said there needed to be a greater police presence in the area, although lookouts made their job difficult.
“How can you establish all the housing we have got out this side and expect the Woden police station to take care of that area plus this whole new area with so many people in it,” she said.
Weston Creek Community Council chair Bill Gemmell has also been banging the drum about the increased hooning and noise, saying the culprits are driving illegally modified vehicles dangerously and it was only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt.
Mr Gemmell said the nearest police station is in Woden – too far from the action to make a difference.
The council had been calling for more police, including some form of shop front in the Weston Creek-Molonglo area for some time.
“It’s dangerous driving, anyone losing traction in an urban environment deliberately amongst people, there’s no other word for it and they shouldn’t be driving,” he said.
Mr Gemmel said some of these cars had their rear brakes disconnected to enhance the burnout and exhaust systems tampered with.
“Then they drive them in traffic that we share with them,” he said.
Mr Gemmell said police needed greater powers to impound vehicles, saying the laws here compared to NSW, SA and Victoria were quite flimsy.
“It takes a lot to get to the the threshold of crushing them,” he said. “They need an effective deterrent – they don’t have it.”
Ms Hagan said the Government should also look at road pacifying measures but Mr Gemmell warned that some drivers used speed bumps as launch pads.
She said guard rails on the mountain roads might stop drivers from using roadsides as part of their frolics.
Ms Hagan is sympathetic to calls for an official facility for motor enthusiasts if that will help the situation, but Mr Gemmell said that was unlikely to work because it would involve rules, car inspections and insurance charges.
Local MLA Marisa Paterson who has taken up the cause for residents, said the two issues should not be conflated.
“We need to be absolutely clear that there is a distinction between dangerous driving and people wanting motor sport. It’s not the same issue,” she said.
She said impounding vehicles should be an option, and infrastructure to slow vehicles and block them from driving on to sports fields should be investigated.
But Ms Paterson said the police had told her that they had upped their presence in the area and it was adequate.
Whether more could be done was a matter for Police Minister Mick Gentleman, whom she had been lobbying.
Mr Gentleman said the government was still considering tougher laws to combat dangerous driving, including making it easier to impound vehicles.
“We would consider harsher methods including seizing the vehicles of especially bad offenders as a deterrent,” he said.
“We want to ensure changes are informed by expert advice and reflect what police have requested.”
He said the ACT already has a range of penalties for dangerous driving depending on the circumstances and the Government was working with police and road users to understand where and how further penalties may help improve safety.
Mr Gentleman said road barriers along the sealed section of Brindabella Road would be installed this financial year and sections of Uriarra Road had also been identified as possible sites for safety improvements.
That may provide some comfort to Ms Hagan.
“This is a huge issue for so many people in this area and we’re getting so sick and frustrated with it,” she said.
ACT Policing said that hooning was an ACT-wide concern.
The 74 incidents of hooning behaviour detected in the Weston Creek, Molonglo Valley, or Uriarra areas over the past two financial years represented 5.1 per cent of the 1,454 hooning incidents detected by police across the ACT in that timeframe.
Incidents detected are those that result in either charges being laid for a court appearance, the issuing of a Traffic Infringement Notice, or a road user being cautioned.
ACT Policing said police would include for the first time in its 2021-22 Road Safety Calendar a specific month-long campaign on hooning.
Detective Inspector Donna Hofmeier from ACT Road Policing urged the public to report incidents of hooning.
“ACT Policing is always concerned about inappropriate behaviour on our roads. We are members of the Canberra community, and this kind of behaviour puts the safety of all members of the community at risk,” Detective Superintendent Hofmeier said.
“Police rely on members of the public to report hooning to us and we will respond to all reports we receive to investigate or gather intelligence.”
Officer-in-Charge, Woden Police Station, Detective Acting Inspector Chris Ball said he understood residents’ frustrations.
“I urge anyone with information about it happening in the Weston, Molonglo Valley or Uriarra areas to tell us about it as it is happening. We can only respond to the incidents we know about.”