Motorcycle racing: Time to crack down on rockets of the road

Sometimes all a motorist hears is the chainsaw-like buzz of the engine rocketing past, and all that's seen is a silvery blur. Racing high-performance motorcyclists are the scourge of Maryland highways in the warmer spring and summer months — 120-mph road rockets fearlessly weaving through traffic.

They are hair-raisingly scary and outrageously dangerous. While highway fatalities are in decline in this country, incidents of motorcycle-related injury and fatality continue to climb. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of motorcyclists dying in crashes doubled, according to a University of Maryland study, and such thrill-seeking behavior has surely played a part.

Earlier this month, a 39-year-old veteran Maryland State Police trooper was killed on Interstate 95 at the Route 32 exit in Howard County. His car slammed into the back of a parked tractor-trailer, but a witness reportedly saw Trooper 1st Class Shaft S. Hunter attempting to chase down a speeding motorcyclist.

The incident remains under investigation. Generally, police in Maryland and elsewhere are reluctant to engage in a high-speed chase against a much more maneuverable motorcyclist capable of reaching speeds of 140 mph or higher. The danger such pursuits pose to the officers and the general public is considerable.

But that doesn't mean such criminals should get a free pass. A decade ago, state police organized a campaign to crack down on such speeders. Operation Rocket Roundup used surveillance, undercover investigators, helicopters and stakeouts to catch rogue motorcyclists.

An MSP spokesman says police still use these tools against speeders, but the state hasn't had a specific and long-term plan of attack to combat racing motorcyclists since that time. Perhaps now is the moment for state police and local law enforcement agencies to join forces and resurrect Operation Rocket Roundup.

Certainly, that would be a fitting tribute to Trooper Hunter, who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep Maryland's highways safe. As much as outlaw street racing has been popularized on film and television, the risk it poses to the real-life public is unacceptable.

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