Sunday 26 March 2017

Boy racers' turning own vehicles into death traps

Young men tampering with car technology to boost performance

Madness: The car jump in Clonakilty from YouTube
Madness: The car jump in Clonakilty from YouTube
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Young male Irish drivers, who are six times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than any other category of driver, are creating further danger on the roads by over-riding safety and fuel efficiency equipment on cars.

And, many who have not notified their insurance company that they have over-ridden the original manufacturer's electronic controls on their cars could have their insurance invalidated after an accident. While third-party injuries would be covered, the car owner could be faced with huge medical bills for himself. The insurers of others injured in accidents would also be entitled to claim back any compensation paid to third parties from the car owner.

Large numbers of boy racers are buying black market computer chips to replace the manufacturers' electronic control unit (ECU) computer chip which controls the performance of diesel turbo engines. The process is known as 'chipping'.

The manufacturer-installed chips keep the engine performance to 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the maximum in order to make the car more efficient and in order to ensure that the engine does not rev to its maximum and be damaged, or even blow up.

The black market chips remove the controls and allow the engine to run to their maximum speed. In a typical two-litre diesel turbo-charged engine, the new chip would increase the brake horsepower by 30 per cent from 170bhp to 230bhp.

It gives the car greatly increased acceleration from start and increases the top speed by 20 per cent. Again in a turbo diesel, this could increase the top speed of a car that was limited by the manufacturer to 130mph to around 160mph.

Niall Doyle, head of corporate affairs at the Irish Insurance Federation, said that if a car owner modified a car the insurer had to be informed. "If they do not inform their insurer they may be considered to be uninsured. There is a duty of disclosure, just as there is a duty to disclose if they have been disqualified or have penalty points. It's the same as if they declare the car is a 1.3-litre when it is a two-litre engine.

"It would be deemed to be uninsured and they would not be able to claim for any car or medical expenses. The third parties will be insured under the policy but the insurer may claim repayment made to third parties. You could have a payment as high as a €1m to a third party and the insurer would be entitled to go after that million."

Gardai and road safety people continue to be appalled at the antics of boy racers. Only four days after the eight deaths in Donegal, they were driving at dangerously high speed and performing dangerous stunts in the Inishowen Peninsula near Cardonagh, less than 20 miles from the site of the accident.

Last week, a video put up on YouTube showed young men in Cork jumping a car over what appears to be a stretch of the N71 near Clonakilty, a busy tourist route. The Nissan Micra is seen driving down a steep field at speed then launching across the road to the other side.

Another video from Tipperary also posted on a website showed a group of young men driving dangerously and climbing out car windows as they sped along a narrow road, dicing with a car which was filming them and coming dangerously close to other road users. Gardai have confiscated two cars in their inquiries into this incident.

Male drivers under the age of 25 have accounted for 40 per cent of road deaths this year -- a slightly higher than normal because of the deaths of the seven young men in Donegal two weeks ago. As the 18 to 25 age group represents only about five per cent of the population, each year young male drivers are six to eight times more likely to be involved in fatal road crashes.

Also the times that young male drivers are most active -- at weekends and in the evenings -- are also the peak times for fatal crashes.

About half of all road deaths occur at the weekend.

Sunday Independent

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