David Miller: Dealing With Another Youth Problem

Published: Tue 21 Aug 2001 08:32 AM
David Miller Online
Dealing With Another Youth Problem
When this column last focused on issues concerning this country’s youth, the number one problem appeared to be alcohol and the effects it was having on young people. The government had just announced that it was reviewing the liquor laws in this country to try and alleviate the problems associated with youth binge drinking. One month on and another youth problem has arisen. This time vehicles have taken the place of alcohol as the fundamental problem and the panic, especially within the Christchurch local government, is that these young ‘hoons’ as they are known as, are gathering in large numbers and organising burnouts at several locations across the city.
As my fellow one time ‘hoon’ Maree Howard pointed out in her column last week, the Christchurch City Council is talking tough. It has decided that these young tearaways are nothing more than a nuisance to the rest of us good citizens along with the city and its image. They have backed up this harsh rhetoric with some measures that are aimed at stopping these burnouts and that are rather draconian. Not only can someone be fined for participating in such gatherings but you can also be handed a $750 fine simply by pulling up and watching these young motorists at work.
Admittedly this is not entirely about the council and the police going over the top trying to prevent the burnouts, as there have been reports of property damage in areas where the burnouts take place. Another consideration here is that due to the diesel being poured on the road, the damage to the surface has increased, thus posing a danger to other motorists. One complaint I did hear was that not only is the road surface damaged after the diesel has been poured onto it but it also becomes much more slippery after the area had frozen under one of Canterbury’s legendary frosts.
As with youths and their drinking, youths and their vehicles is an issue that must be looked into and dealt with. I'm sure that Christchurch is not the only part of New Zealand that experiences such gatherings of young petrol heads although the issue has gained in profile down here. However it must be dealt with constructively or else all banging on fists on tables and expressions of disapproval on the faces will merely prove to be a waste of time. It appears at present that the harder the police and council try to crack down on burnouts and the participants, the more they run up against a brick wall.
Many youths are simply not concerned with the prospect of being handed an infringement notice and one young chap I spoke to said that although he already has about 200 dollars in fines to pay, he was in no way worried of incurring any more. The thought of the debt was horrifying to me, but he was not concerned as he was paying them off at less than 10 dollars a week and this illustrated to me that this is not enough of a deterrent to stop him or those like him.
The most talked about solution to this issue is the establishment of a legal and supervised burnout pad where young motorists can go and spin their wheels until the hearts content. So far due to council red tape this has not happened and even if it eventually does become reality it will not stop the youths in their cars touring the city and gathering. Unfortunately for the council there to many cars on the road to police and to many places they youths can go to enjoy their burnouts. Handing down exuberant infringement notices is not going to prevent this and the same young motorist I spoke too was of the opinion that it would not be any fun if it was all organised and above board. If one travels the streets of Christchurch in the hours of darkness on the weekends they will not have to look hard to find groups of young motorists gathering together. As with the issue if youth drinking, it is a case of dealing with and changing attitudes and finding a solution to deal with the volume in the human traffic involved.
This is not an issue that has suddenly appeared, instead it is one that people in local government have decided to suddenly get worked up over. I am not condoning property or road damage in any way and I agree this matter must be dealt with, but would suggest that the council and police look for ways in which the matter can be dealt with positively and not only look at reactionary measures that will only make the situation worse. The burnout pad is a good idea, but if it is to be successful then more than one must be established and in different parts of the city. If this is done then at least the council and police have some justification for handing out large fines.
If there is a bright light in all of this, it is the fact that eventually youth motorists grow older and really it is sad if they try to stay boy racers forever. I was talking to an old school friend of mine who once upon a time owned a Ford Cortina; a car that he still believes is one of the all time boy racer classics. It was great to recall the days when we used to race around town in our cars, doing burnouts and all the hi-jinks you got up to as a youngster, then suddenly the laughter stopped. This was the moment that we realised that although we too were young once even we had to come of age. It is not a case of Cortina’s and Mazda 323’s with all the trimmings anymore. These days the cars involve Honda Accords, Preludes and Mitsubishi Sigma’s. Getting older is not the most comforting of thoughts to any one but at least the cost of repairs is not what it used to be and it goes to show that even the young burnout enthusiasts will no doubt one day be seen in their family sedan’s sticking to firmly to the speed limit.

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